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A New 'The Office' Comedy For The COVID-19 Era?

Members of the cast of <em>The Office</em>, a show that producers may resurrect with characters working from home because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Chris Haston
NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images
Members of the cast of The Office, a show that producers may resurrect with characters working from home because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Imagine a version of the NBC hit comedy The Office where everyone's working from home. Irritating boss Michael can't stop sending vaguely inappropriate gifs, lumpish Kevin can't quite master the mute button and workplace wiseguy Jim is always looking directly at the camera, because, well, he has no other choice. He's stuck in meetings on Zoom.

The comic potential of such a show recently became clear to Ben Silverman and Paul Lieberstein, two executive producers of The Office. (That show ended in 2013 and has since become one of the most popular series on Netflix.) They've announced plans for a brand new show – "an office comedy without an office," Lieberstein calls it — inspired by the present predicament of people working from home.

"I was in everybody's house and I was in everybody's life," Lieberstein explains about his own experience with Zoom and FaceTime conferences. "Everybody's attempt to keep themselves private from work no longer applies. And this kind of integration between home and work brought all these new ideas and stories and characters into play."

Lieberstein says the new show, which is still in development, would focus on the realities of working from home, rather than the pandemic that's made self-isolation necessary.

"We're all experiencing the quarantine," he says. "I don't know if we want to go as dark as the virus itself. People are getting enough of that without me. But I think the challenges of staying sane under quarantine are ours to play with."

Lieberstein admitted the show's conceit may have been driven in part by practical considerations. The advantages of a show that could be filmed and produced in self-isolation are obvious, particularly should the coronavirus refuse to be contained. "I think that's a conversation a lot of the networks are having," he says. But Lieberstein says he thinks this show will reflect a profound cultural shift in the workplace.

"I can't see us going back even when we're allowed to. Zoom is too good," he says. "It's very efficient. The meetings work."

But where's the comedy in that? Lieberstein laughed. There's no shortage of funny little things in this new Zoom world, he promises, to make a show about it entertaining.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.