Online ‘Office’ enriches viewer experience

Daniels delivers plot points with producer's cut

“So Michael had a little chat with Corporate, and they decided to send me to management training. Anger-management training, technically, but still … management material!”

Such was the revelation ending the Jan. 18 episode of “The Office,” answering questions viewers may have had over the fate of Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) after he punched a hole in a Dunder-Mifflin wall.

But it’s a revelation seen only by viewers watching the producer’s cut of the episode online, and even days following its airing, “Office” showrunner Greg Daniels still wasn’t sure how to address the next broadcast episode (scheduled for Feb. 1).

“I haven’t locked the next episode, and we’re debating whether we need to answer the question,” Daniels said earlier this week. “It’d be the first time we said the online version is answering a question that the (on-air) viewer is curious to know about.

“I’m kind of tempted to do that because next episode is really tight also, and I want it to be the best episode for (its own sake).”

There’s no doubt that both Daniels and NBC have enjoyed the ability to air a longer version of “The Office” online, as has happened previously this season with the “Branch Closing” episode. The producer’s cut solidifies the bond between the show and its viewers, and as Daniels pointed out, “it makes it a little less painful to cut something” — especially when NBC can’t grant Daniels any extra leeway.

“When I’m locking the (broadcast) cut,” Daniels said, “I call up (the network), and I say, ‘Can you give me any extra time?’ And sometimes they can; sometimes they’ve got an extra 15 seconds or an extra 30 seconds.”

For the Jan. 18 episode, entitled “The Return,” no such luck.

“The tag (would have) answered the question of where (Andy) went, but you can still enjoy the show without the tag, and I didn’t know how to take another 36 seconds out of the show.”

Although Daniels said he doesn’t save anything for the producer’s cut as a reward to online viewers, scenes relegated to the Web are not mere detritus. They have come to involve plot points that, while dispensable for a given episode, are more critical for appreciating the series as a whole.

“The Return” also featured a scene that deepened the budding (if unlikely) friendship between Pam (Jenna Fischer) and Angela (Angela Kinsey). Daniels regretfully excised the scene, reasoning that its absence would not derail that episode’s storyline, but it meant that dedicated viewers who only see the show via the airwaves will have missed a significant chapter in the two characters’ arc.

Eventually, the producer’s cuts will be the versions sold on iTunes and time-capsuled for DVD posterity, meaning that the original version of the episode seen on broadcast won’t go down in history as the de facto official version.

“Maybe, eventually, the online version will just be the true version, and the on-air version will be the promo for the online,” Daniels said. “I do know that the show feels better with two or three more minutes.”

Many would argue that by generating such an excess of quality material, “The Office” has no one to blame but itself for this online-offline dilemma.

“I tend to overwrite,” Daniels said, “because I feel like the way the show is, it’s better to cut stuff in the editing room, and it makes it more similar to a real documentary, and a real documentary often has hundreds of hours of extra footage. Just the way it was edited, it gives you a feel that there was a lot more shot that day.

“In the beginning, I always wanted to have 22 funny minutes. If I shot 36 minutes and 14 didn’t work, I would still have 22 minutes. What happened is, as the show goes further along and we know the characters more and (the actors) grow more confident, we shoot 36 minutes and 35 minutes work. And then you’re in the position of, ‘Oh, I’ve got all this extra.”

There are other ways that Daniels and “The Office” have been the victim of their own productivity. When this season’s Christmas episode clocked in at 37 minutes, NBC permitted Daniels to expand it to a two-parter — causing him to have to come up with even more scenes to film.

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