For a show that was never a ratings smash during its nine-year run, “The Office” has experienced an astronomical afterlife. In fact, it had a second season thanks only to an NBC executive staking his reputation on its potential. But “The Office” — a drabby workplace sitcom that debuted in 2005 and was adapted from Ricky Gervais’ crueler British mockumentary series — has become Netflix’s most-watched show. It clocked 45.8 billion viewing minutes last year, according to Nielsen. That’s 14 billion more minutes than “Friends” garnered during that time and 18.2 billion more than Netflix’s own hit “Stranger Things.”
So when Jenna Fischer, who played Pam Beesly (the front desk receptionist at the fictional paper company Dunder Mifflin, based in Scranton, Pennsylvania), and Angela Kinsey, who played Angela Martin (its no-nonsense head of accounting and the future Mrs. Dwight Schrute), wanted to continue working together, they came up with an idea: a podcast full of their behind-the-scenes insights and best friend banter.
Stitcher’s podcast network Earwolf — a go-to producer for unscripted comedy podcasts thanks to Scott Aukerman’s “Comedy Bang! Bang!” and the more recent “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” — jumped at the pitch.
Kinsey and Fischer then recorded a 19-second teaser for “Office Ladies”; released early Sept. 17, it became the No. 1 podcast on the Apple charts by that evening. The first episode of the podcast debuts Wednesday (it has more than 6,000 five-star reviews already).
Right after recording their fifth episode (“Basketball”), Fischer and Kinsey hopped on an Earwolf studios speakerphone to talk about the podcast experience, an “Office” reboot and “resting Angela Martin face.” These are edited excerpts from that conversation.
QUESTION: Did the reaction to your trailer surprise you?
JENNA FISCHER: This is a whole new world for us, so honestly we were taken aback.
ANGELA KINSEY: I was on a walk in my neighborhood and this young couple were across the street, and they were like, “We love your podcast!” And I was like, “Wait, it’s not out!” And they said, “Well, we like your trailer!” I was like, “Thank you!”
Q: So where did the idea for the podcast come from?
KINSEY: I was going through my garage, and I have all of these Rubbermaid bins full of photos and memorabilia. Jenna jokes that I’m a hoarder because I save everything. I would save a little note that Oscar passed me, a drawing that Jenna drew or a prop. I have Michael Scott’s business card.
FISCHER: You have Dwight and Angela’s wedding invitation.
KINSEY: So I was going through it all, and Jenna came over and was looking through it with me, and it made us really nostalgic. We started reminiscing, and the 15-year anniversary is coming up so we thought this is a great opportunity for us to rewatch it and talk about our memories, our behind-the-scenes moments and share it with the fans.
Q: Why a podcast?
FISCHER: Rainn Wilson [who played Dwight Schrute] used to say we should have our own talk show. We have dreamed for many years of one day taking over the fourth hour of “The Today Show.” [Both laugh] I’m going to keep putting it out there until it’s a reality. That was what morphed into the idea of a podcast — we wanted to be storytellers and tell our stories out loud.
KINSEY: And we love to chitty-chat, so.
Q: What about “The Office” lends itself really well to the podcast format?
KINSEY: The show’s documentary format makes it very easy to revisit one episode at a time. We’re going in order, but even if we hadn’t, you can watch almost any episode and basically know where everyone’s at. But also, “The Office” is just so beloved. The people listening to this podcast will have probably seen it way more times than even Jenna and I have. They have a real handle on each episode. They have very strong memories of the episodes.
FISCHER: Yes! I didn’t realize that for the episode of “The Alliance” [during which downsizing rumors take hold], how many people wanted to hear about Rainn Wilson being inside of a box. So, I was like, well, we have to talk about that. I’m going to get to the bottom of that.
Q: Should we expect 201 episodes?
FISCHER: We’ll keep going as long as people are listening.
KINSEY: We’re going to hit up all of the cast and crew to make pop-in phone calls, stop by.
FISCHER: Yeah. Rainn Wilson called in on our third episode, the “Health Care” episode. Our props master, Phil Shea, called in for “The Alliance.”
KINSEY: And we have a few of our directors and writers already in line ready to go.
Q: What’s your process for making each episode?
FISCHER: I prep the episode. I rewatch the episode, and I take notes, and I write down any stories or memories I can think of. If I need to confirm things, I start texting and emailing people. But then I’ll do an even deeper dive. I’ll go onto the internet, I’ll look up deleted scenes, “Office” commentary, anything to jog my memory. My role on the podcast, I feel like is to
KINSEY: Outline it. Jenna loves a synopsis. I joke that I’m color commentary because my process is totally different. I do a little bit of a deep dive as well and reach out to people. Then I bring in 25 different-colored notecards, and I spread them all over the studio table, and Jenna’s like, “What is that?”
FISCHER: Angela has also become our background expert. She’s been spotting obscure, weird things in the background of scenes.
KINSEY: So you have those two different personalities coming at you with information.
Q: What do you think is giving “The Office” such staying power?
KINSEY: It’s very, very, very well-written and smart. I also think that at the core of the show are the relationships. It’s this sort of misfit family. And the relationships themselves feel familiar. What I’m seeing even with my daughter in fifth grade or someone in their 50s with a corporate job is that whether it’s in your homeroom classroom or in your office conference room, there’s probably a Dwight. There’s probably an Angela. Right?
FISCHER: There’s a person who’s the stickler for rules. There’s the weird deskmate that you’ve had for 10 years.
Q: People on the internet often refer to binge-watching “The Office” as therapy.
FISCHER: A lot of young women talk to me about Pam’s journey, the way that Pam finds her voice and finds herself throughout the life of the series.
KINSEY: We all — the cast — have people come up to us and say, “My son and I can’t really agree on much these days. He’s going through those teen years, but the one thing we do is watch ‘The Office’ together. It’s the thing our family does together. It gives us something to bond over, to connect with, to have in common.”
FISCHER: People have been pestering me about a reboot. And I would say, “Oh, I think it’s just perfect as it is.” But now that I’m rewatching it and reliving all the memories of what it was like to work together, I’m the one pestering everybody for a reboot.
KINSEY: We know we might not be able to get everyone for a traditional reboot, but we will take a reunion movie.
Q: Do fans try to interact with Pam and Angela when they meet you?
KINSEY: Well, the minute anyone meets me, it’s almost off-putting how chatty I am. [Fischer laughs] I have outtalked people.
FISCHER: Angela has never met a stranger.
KINSEY: I had a lady come up to me at Target, and she just wanted to say, “Hey, I love ‘The Office.’” And then I was like, “Oh my gosh, what did you get in the seasonal aisle? Where are those place mats?” And I started chatting her up so much, she was like, “Actually I have to go.” So pretty quickly, people realize that I am not Angela Martin. For a while, it seemed like people would be a little hesitant to come up to me because they thought maybe I was going to be, well, a bitch. I now naturally have a “resting Angela Martin face”; I think it’s from nine years of frowning. My resting face is just a scowl. But as soon as you get me talking, that’s gone.
FISCHER: When I was a little girl growing up in St. Louis, I wanted more than anything to be on a comedy television show. I used to watch “Cheers” with my family and thought, “One day I want to be Shelley Long. I want to play a character on a TV comedy that everyone remembers.” So I don’t care if people call me Pam for the rest of my life.