Six years after its last episode aired on NBC, and eight years after Steve Carrell’s exit turned the show into the broadcast equivalent of Shaquille O’Neal’s post-Miami Heat NBA career, The Office is enjoying an unexpected cultural renaissance.
According to the Wall Street Journal, The Office has been Netflix’s most-watched show for several years, logging 52 billion viewing minutes in 2018 alone. That’s nearly 2.4 billion episodes – or 3% of all Netflix streaming for the year.
Those of us who watched The Office during its nine-year run on NBC remain just as invested in Jim and Pam’s romance we were in 2005, and – thanks to Netflix – Generation Z is falling in love with the show for the first time.
The show’s cult following is growing uncontrollably, and even the secondary characters in Dunder Mifflin’s ensemble cast are basking in their newfound celebrity status.
Kate Flannery, who played Meredith, is on the new season of Dancing With the Stars. Angela Kinsey – who played Angela – attracted headlines when she showed up at the DWTS premiere to cheer Flannery on. Kinsey and Jenna Fischer (Pam) are cashing in on the moment with a new podcast called “Office Ladies.”
Now, NBCUniversal wants its piece of the action, which is why it plans to yank its crown jewel off Netflix and use it to hawk its soon-to-launch streaming platform.
NBC is making a $500 million gamble that (1) Loyalties run deep enough to spur fans of The Office to purchase a second (or third, fourth, or fifth, etc.) streaming subscription and (2) Those loyalties are also deep enough to overcome the platform’s bewildering name.
Let’s address that second point first.
It’s clear that NBC is banking hard on the quality of its content library, because it can’t have devoted much time or resources to crafting its streaming platform’s brand.
Instead, we’re left with this word salad, which boils down to NBC’s crippling fear that viewers don’t realize its iconic logo is supposed to be a rainbow-colored bird:
“The name Peacock pays homage to the quality content that audiences have come to expect from NBCUniversal,” Bonnie Hammer, chairman of direct-to-consumer and digital enterprises, told the Hollywood Reporter.
Sorry NBC, but no one’s subscribing to a streaming platform called Peacock.
But the ill-named streaming service might have an even bigger problem.
There’s a reason why old episodes of The Office still dominate our viewing habits in the New Golden Age of Television.
Research demonstrates that humans become paralyzed when presented with too many choices. That explains why we spend an average of 19 minutes scrolling through Netflix before we finally pick a show to watch.
And after all that scrolling, we’re tired, we’re dissatisfied, and we’re no closer to making a decision. By this point, our brains just want some visual comfort food. So we flick on The Office.
I’m not saying this to criticize you. I’m just as guilty as you are.
After pouring billions of dollars into original content, Netflix finally learned that lesson. Critically acclaimed exclusives like Stranger Things and House of Cards might attract subscribers, but when push comes to shove, those viewers will spend far more time binging on cultural comfort food than they will watching Netflix’s in-house content.
Sure, Netflix would love to retain the streaming license to The Office (and fellow cultural touchstone Friends), but that ship has sailed. So the company is doing the next best thing – replacing it.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Netflix was “particularly aggressive” in negotiations and agreed to pay “far more” for Seinfeld than the $500 million NBC forked over to reclaim streaming rights to The Office. That’s a king’s ransom for a show that hasn’t been on the air since the oldest members of Gen Z were still in diapers.
Netflix’s gamble is that this cultural junk food is more or less interchangeable and that it can persuade Office addicts that a Seinfeld binge-session provides hits the same emotional and physical triggers.
NBC’s half-a-billion-dollar bet is that it won’t.
I’m confident that The Office won’t save Peacock. The only question is whether The Office’s cultural moment will survive Peacock’s inevitable demise.
I started watching The Office shortly after season five wrapped, and it’s been my most-watched show ever since – first on DVD, and then on Netflix.
So what will I do when The Office exits Netflix? I’m not entirely sure.
I know I won’t be subscribing to Peacock.
Maybe I’ll dig my copies of The Office out of the boxes of DVDs in my basement, where they’ve sat, still packed, since I moved five months ago.
But I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll just start streaming Seinfeld.
This article was edited by Josiah Wilmoth.