'Office' hands cross the water

Times Staff Writer

Ever since NBC decided to turn David Brent, Britain's boneheaded office manager, into Michael Scott, America's boneheaded office manager, a question hovered over the enterprise: How much would the original creators of "The Office" be involved in the adaptation? After two seasons of sticking to a strict hands-off policy, British creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant have written an episode of "The Office: An American Workplace," which will air Thursday.

Greg Daniels, an executive producer and show runner, said he wanted Gervais and Merchant to participate. For years they resisted, believing the show should be made by Americans, for Americans.

"When they said they wanted a remake, we said, 'That sounds fun, but this isn't our baby. We have to put on a fostering parent frame of mind,' " Gervais said. "We didn't want to get too attached. Otherwise it could drive you mad."

But after watching the show develop to maturity in Season 2, the pair gave in and wrote Thursday's episode, "The Convict." In the show, the office employees learn that one of the former Stamford, Conn., branch employees is an ex-con.

"It was all the fun without the pain," Gervais said. "I found myself not writing for David Brent [his role in the original], I was writing for Michael Scott. It was two years of missing 'The Office' crammed into 25 minutes."

Gervais worried about not knowing enough about office protocol in the U.S. "I knew everything about this place [in England], the pitfalls, the do's and don'ts. Whereas in America, I don't know if I'm getting it right or not." After a few days' brainstorming over language, he said, "we translated it pretty well."

Daniels said cast and crew always liked having Gervais and Merchant on the set. "They have a 'Laurel and Hardy' relationship. You just kind of watch it."

The Brits, however, couldn't help but intentionally slip a few Britishisms, like "gone missing," into their episode of the adaptation.

"We'll see if the viewers can tell," Daniels said.


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