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The success of the US version The Office

John Krasinski

Why did the US version of The Office make it to nine seasons when the UK version managed only two?  My casting advice is the short answer, but here’s the long answer…

In 2002 I was working at Wunderman in New York on the AT&T Broadband brand who at the time were the largest cable TV supplier in the US.  Much of the work was TV – branding spots, acquisition spots, pay-per-view event spots, sports package spots (NFL, NBA, NHL, NCAA, etc.) and channel promotion spots (my Playboy TV spot was the highest performing spot ever, shame AT&T were too conservative to put it forward for awards, but that’s another blog post).  Anyway, in June we were doing two Nascar In Demand spots – a forward-looking 6-channel offering which put you in control of the viewing experience (it even made the industry press).

One of the scripts had a super-fan thinking he was best pals with the AT&T sponsored driver Matt Kenseth because he felt like he’d ridden beside him because of the in-car camera.  However, it was proving an issue to cast this chap in NYC where Nascar stereotypes dominated the agent’s provision of models, what they wore to the casting and how they (over)acted.  And at the end of the second day we had cast all talent for both spots except this one.

Then at the end of the second day, one of the production company mentioned someone who had just finished shooting a spot up in Canada.  Apparently while wearing no pads he was tossed around on the ice by hockey players (stereotypes eh?), while delivering his lines to camera.  The call went out and half an hour later he turned up with bruises like he’d been over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

We shot his read and chatted with him – he was affable and funny.  The director’s look said it all – we’d found our man.  And this would be his second US acting gig so we didn’t even have to pay SAG rates yet – bonus!  Trouble was the client had already left for Denver and in 2002 there was no easy way to get the footage to her.  The decision had to be made whether to extend casting and possibly delay the shoot.

I rushed back to the office, copied the tape and then up to FedEx, speaking to the client when she touched down at midnight.  She wasn’t in the office the next morning, so wouldn’t be able to see the tape until the afternoon.  I said we couldn’t really afford to extend casting and told her that the guy we’d just seen was perfect and I assured her (lied) that if she didn’t like him, one of the back-ups had come back and done a good read after she left.

The phone call came at 7pm NY time… she loved him.  The shoot down in North Carolina was a blinding success, I got over-exposed to the sun and all things Nascar, the final spots were approved by all involved with very little tinkering and the Nascar package sold by the boat load.  So what of The Office?

Well when the US version of The Office launched I briefly considered that Jim Halpert looked a little like the guy we’d cast in the Nascar spot, but didn’t really give it much thought.  Then I was clearing out a cupboard and found an old Wunderman video tape.  One video to DVD transfer later and my suspicions were confirmed.  There indeed was the man John Krasinski clowning around and cracking up the talent and crew.  And here is John in an extended creative cut…

So the way I look at it, I was responsible for casting John Krasinski in this spot, and with this spot under his belt John was SAG eligible and the rest is history.  I’m sure John himself, Ricky Gervais, Steve Carell and Alison Jones had nothing to do with it.

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