Kendall Jenner covering Kylie Jenner on the cover of Vogue. Chris Cuomo interviewing his brother Andrew, the (former) governor of New York on CNN. First daughters Chelsea Clinton and Jenna Bush Hager inking pricey deals with NBC News. The trend of celebrities taking the reins of the news, be it fashion, entertainment, or political media, hasn’t been pretty, and it certainly hasn’t elevated the quality of commentary. But when applied by the right person to the right subject, it has potential, and Brian Baumgartner's and Ben Silverman’s Welcome to Dunder Mifflin: The Ultimate Oral History of The Office, demonstrates the appeal when done to effect.


Perhaps the formula is favored because neither co-author is famous for flaunting on the cover of magazines. Baumgartner played the rather rotund and somewhat sophomoric Kevin Malone. In reality, the actor is classically trained and a far cry from the dimwitted drollery of the fictional accountant. Silverman was the youngest division head ever at William Morris, the premier talent agency now run by Ari Emanuel and known as Endeavor. He began the crusade to import the original BBC comedy created by Ricky Gervais and transform it into an American iteration.

The authors don’t overreach in their abilities and access. As a pure oral history relying on testimony from the comedy’s cast and crew, the book is not a comprehensive telling of the show’s creation, nor does it dress itself up as one. It clocks in at a staggering 444 pages, but that’s more because its graphics are situated as a cross between standard nonfiction and a coffee table book.

The book is essentially the polished and printed version of An Oral History of the Office, the carefully produced podcast published by Spotify at the height of the pandemic last year and hosted by Baumgartner. Whereas the dozen podcast episodes clock in at upwards of seven hours, the book proves a quicker read, suitable for a flight if you can tolerate the physical weight of the tome.

The purpose of Welcome to Dunder Mifflin is inextricable from the reason for its success. Just four weeks after the publication of the hotly anticipated memoir by Katie Couric and the book by Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen (also a distillation of their exclusive Spotify podcast, further proof of the podcast-in-print genre as a bourgeoning one), this book about a fictional paper company from a show nearly a decade old by now beat both those books on the New York Times best nonfiction sellers list upon its debut. It owes some of its success to the pure, lasting, and potent comedy of the show in a vacuum. Still, such an unadulterated embrace of nostalgia was made for a moment when the millennials who grew up with the comfort of Jim and Pam pranking Dwight and Michael, making us all cringe, were suddenly locked out of our offices for an indefinite period of pandemic panic.

The core question asked by Baumgartner and Silverman is just how The Office became the sort of cultural giant that rendered it the most-streamed series in all of 2020. (Nielsen puts the estimate at 57.1 billion minutes of streaming across platforms over the year — that’s over 10,000 years.)

That answer is an interesting one, and one primarily answered by the faces behind the camera. Gervais said he ultimately granted his blessing for Greg Daniels to become the showrunner because he understood The Office as a love story, inverting the typical sitcom narrative by placing the show’s central romance between Jim and Pam at the periphery. At the same time, the hijinks of Michael and Dwight took center stage. Whereas the comedies of the early aughts cast actors indistinguishable from runway models in shows such as Friends, The Office dared to remain faithful in spirit to the British original and display “Scranton hot.” Actors such as Baumgartner leaned into their physical foibles, and the actresses (though allegedly forced by top NBC brass to wear skirts instead of pants) wore limited hair and makeup. Like her fictional counterpart on the U.K. version, fellow receptionist Dawn, Jenna Fischer as Pam was restricted from looking as though she spent more than a half-hour on her hair, an anomaly for a female love interest in a prime-time network show.

The more interesting answer to the question the book doesn’t ask is how the show survived. NBC, run by the current CNN boss (Jeff Zucker) at the time, had little interest in some fluorescent-lit cringe comedy set in a washed-up London suburb. As a result, it took nearly three years from the time Silverman initiated his crusade to create an American version of the show until NBC agreed to a pilot, and even then, the pilot would not air more than a year later. Ultimately, the network ordered a six-episode season (the pilot, plus another five episodes). Even then, Silverman claims he was “thrown out of” Zucker’s office while he pleaded for a second season.

The book is a quaint dessert for a show that served as comfort food during the worst of the pandemic dystopia, hopefully guiding us to a further and complete return to normalcy. The insights provided about the actual happenings on set aren’t particularly groundbreaking, but they don’t have to be or try to be. Instead, the more cohesive narrative is one of a simple show warring against the media conglomerate ruling it. Though the actors and staff don’t quite say so directly, decisions such as hiring an outsider, James Spader, to replace Steve Carell’s Michael as the Scranton boss was a faux pas demanded by a network that didn’t have faith in the existing cast. Even so, the showrunners and the actors, as evidenced by the author, a more thoughtful set than one usually anticipates from Hollywood, prevailed in pulling off a comedy that defined the mockumentary genre and a generation nostalgic for the boring, ordinary, and wonderful home of a suburban office.