Illustration by Sezi Kaya of The Office characters

‘An Oral History of The Office’ Provides an Inside Look Into the Sitcom

The new Spotify exclusive podcast allows longtime viewers of the beloved program to explore the decisions and stories that made the show a work of genius.
August 13, 2020
7 mins read

If you’re like me, you binge-watched “The Office” on Netflix a few years ago, had some major belly laughs, maybe rewatched it and eventually moved on to the next hilarious sitcom people were talking about. But if you thought the most beloved comedy in the history of American television was one and done, think again. The Spotify-exclusive podcast “An Oral History of The Office” has brought new life to the classic — this time pulling back the curtains on the acting, directing, writing and producing that have an eternal home in the hearts of millions across the globe.

The podcast rekindles listeners’ love for “The Office” by critically investigating every decision that snowballed into the show’s monumental success. But instead of drowning out the show’s feel-good humor and sentimental familiarity with dry analysis from unknown writers and producers, “An Oral History of The Office” thrives on what made the show so lovable — the characters.

Every episode is interweaved with the voices of the characters, both from host Brian Baumgartner, who plays Kevin Malone, and from interviews of the actors behind the show’s beloved cast of characters, like John Krasinski and Rainn Wilson.

Hearing these individuals, whose voices viewers have heard for nine seasons, makes the entire podcast-listening experience feel less like one-way audio and more like a nostalgic conversation with old friends. Each anecdote intricately weaves into the other, supported by Baumgartner’s own inside experience, to make for a thoroughly concocted and comfortably paced storyline.

Aside from the familiar voices, the content of the podcast makes it a worthwhile listening experience. Whether you want to learn about the TV-making process, hear from the perspective of “the camera” that defines the show’s mockumentary style, peer into the minds of the writers, directors and producers that molded the show from a simple pitch or just want to have a good laugh, the podcast will keep you entertained.

The Podcast Format Makes for Compelling Storytelling

The unique narrative of “An Oral History of The Office” immediately sucks the listener into the world of TV production. Much like the show it discusses, the podcast often has cold opens that place the listener right in the middle of the story, leaving them thirsting for the contextual puzzle pieces that slowly unravel throughout Baumgartner’s storytelling.

To give you a taste, the fifth episode starts off with Jenna Fischer saying “People don’t know how John and I are not a couple in real life. They don’t understand it. And I don’t know how to explain it, because it’s a little bit like telling kids there’s no Santa.” I was instantly, irrevocably hooked by this introduction.

The effortless and organic on-screen chemistry between Jim and Pam blurs the lines between acting and reality, and every viewer can feel that. I simply had to keep listening to find out what Fischer and her “Office” sweetheart, John Krasinski, had to say about portraying such an iconic relationship.

The podcast enhances its storytelling by incorporating every possible angle in explaining how “The Office” was made. All too often, only the actors come to mind when a viewer thinks about a show that they love. And understandably so — actors are the actual faces you see.

But “An Oral History of The Office” lends a voice to the people who were vital to the show’s growth but are often less recognized. You can hear about the jovial charisma of writer Jen Salata, the determination of NBC executive Kevin Riley to keep the show on the air and director Ken Kwapis’ seemingly minor decision to shoot a scene from behind a blinded window.

Plus, everything from Baumgartner’s surprisingly relaxing voice to the eerily familiar intro song amplifies the entire podcast-listening experience. I binged four episodes of the podcast in a dark car during a long road trip, and I couldn’t help but smile to myself when I heard a sound bite from a favorite scene or a perfectly timed joke from an especially funny writer.

The podcast further excels by diving into the shockingly complex decisions that went behind some of the show’s relationships, casting decisions and world-building. Each aspect of the podcast’s analysis pries your eyes open to the powerful narrative that made “The Office” more than just a good laugh.

Deeper Dives Into Intricate Scenes and Character Development

By listening to “An Oral History of The Office,” you can also understand the intelligent, thoughtful development of the show’s rounded characters that might have gone otherwise unnoticed. For example, I never questioned Michael’s bizarre intrusiveness into the lives of his employees. But his loneliness, hunger for acceptance and fear of dying alone motivated his actions and his severe attachment to his workers, making for an excellent character to watch.

Maybe you can rejoice at the fact that the creators’ favorite moments were yours too, like when Michael was the only one to show up to Pam’s art show. The most interesting aspect to me was witnessing the sharp contrast and debates between the intelligent minds who came up with the most ridiculous humor.

Mapping Out the Journey of the Show

A whole greater than the sum of its parts, “An Oral History of The Office” takes you on the winding journey of “The Office,” showing you the highs of multiple Emmy victories and the lows of abysmal ratings and near-cancellation. Baumgartner will take you along for the ride as you hear about the million things that went right despite everything that went wrong, and the interplay of luck, fate and the creators’ unyielding passion for the show.

By incorporating the perspectives of the actors you know and love, along with the show creators you will come to deeply respect, the podcast crafts its own real-life storyline that runs parallel to the fictional comedy it discusses. And after my own experience listening to the podcast, I have a newfound respect and deeper understanding of the show. My strong urge to wield my new perspective and see the outcomes of all the decisions “The Office” creators made might just warrant another rewatch.

Srishti Tyagi, Cornell University

Writer Profile

Srishti Tyagi

Cornell University
Biological Sciences

I’m a sophomore at Cornell majoring in Biology and minoring in Information Science, on the pre-med track. I’m also a senior staff writer for the Science section of The Cornell Daily Sun.

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