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The Office is one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time and The Office Deep Dive with Brian Baumgartner explores the behind-the-scenes stories that made the show work. We caught up with Brian to ask about its enduring popularity.
Brian played Kevin on The Office, a well-meaning smiling man, who worked hard but was incredibly socially awkward. The Office has turned nostalgia into gold, with the success of first, The Office Ladies podcast, and Brian’s show The Office Deep Dive, his second Office podcast following An Oral History of The Office, and made Brian a lot of money on Cameo during the pandemic.
Brian is significantly different than his character on the show and very astute, and we talked about that nostalgia, what makes the show popular, his famous chili recipe, and how he became such a great interviewer.
PBJ: Everybody’s a huge fan of The Office. Do you ever get tired of hearing that?
Brian Baumgartner: It’s very nice to hear. It’s crazy. We were the number one scripted show on NBC for the time that we were on, but the show is bigger now than it was then. That started this whole journey for me in trying to figure out why the show has now become so popular and is really by any metric the most-watched show in television today. We haven’t filmed anything in eight years.
PBJ: Amazing. Are you a fan of The Office Ladies?
Brian Baumgartner: I think they did a great job. It wasn’t specifically what I was interested in doing. I think they handled it really well and tell great stories. I’m a big fan of both of them obviously (Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey). When I started my hope was that they would be as supportive of me as I am of them, but it’s a totally different show.
PBJ: You sound a lot different in person than in The Office. Was it hard to find the specific voice for Kevin and was it hard to let that go when you were off-camera?
Brian Baumgartner: It became an exploration from the start of the show in what they were looking for and how Kevin fit into the office and how he was different from Keith in the British version. There’s something that gradually came about as I like to, nerdy actor-wise, explain. I feel like Kevin was very shy in front of the cameras when they were introduced into the office and as he became more comfortable with them being around, more of his true personality came out.
PBJ: That makes sense. Are you able to give the secrets of the famous chili recipe?
Brian Baumgartner: I think a lot of people have tried based on the information that I give in the episode. I can’t believe what that moment has become in popular culture. It’s crazy to me and I don’t think I ever made chili before that incident, and now I make it quite a bit.
PBJ: I notice on the show you ask a lot of guests what their favorite episode is, so I thought I’d ask you the same question.
Brian Baumgartner: I don’t mean to be hedging, but if you listen to The Office Deep Dive, you’ll know a big part in terms of the significance of what was happening was behind the scenes as well, even when the show was shooting. I do have favorite scenes. I think for pound for pound comedy, the injury where Michael burns his foot on the George Foreman grill doesn’t get any funnier than that.
It’s also about the big moments like the first Christmas episode that we did when the show became a hit, and it was the first time more than 10 million people tuned in on a Thursday night to watch a show. I’m a huge sports fan and the stress relief episode, or what people call the fake fire drill Dwight episode aired right after the Superbowl and there’s a lot of significance for me in what was happening with the show around the episodes themselves.
PBJ: I didn’t know you were such an interviewer. How did you develop that skill?
Brian Baumgartner: We had a lot of conversation initially about who was going to ask the questions because we really wanted to get to the story. I joked at one point that I’m not an investigative journalist, but I just play one on the podcast. I’m sure someone other than me could ask way better questions, but I knew based on our shared history and love for each other that no one else besides me was going to be able to have the conversations I would be able to have with people from The Office. Having that shared history that we could reference together became the defining decision-making thing. We thought we would get the best answers, and maybe more comedy.
PBJ: When is someone going to interview you on Deep Dive to get your perspective?
Brian Baumgartner: I feel like every interviewer steals something from every other interviewer so that may be what I steal from you today. I think that is a really interesting idea. I’m not sure who does it though. That to me is the tougher question.
PBJ: You touched on why the show is so popular and I think maybe it’s the relationships you guys built up on the show itself. Is that kind of relationship-building normal in your experience?
Brian Baumgartner: No this was wholly unique. One, and most importantly, they cast really, good people from the top all the way down. Steve Carell wasn’t a huge star when the show first started and then he took off like a lightning bolt with the 40-Year Old Virgin during our second season. Also, some of us were a bit older and our successes and failures brought us together, The other thing is because of the way the show was shot, we were all there together all the time, sometimes 60 or 70 hours a week. That time that forced us to be together forged a really strong bond.
PBJ: It seems like you’re having a lot of fun making the show. The recent episode with Phyllis is a gem.
Brian Baumgartner: Phyllis doesn’t live in Los Angeles anymore and many of us were across the country and we haven’t been able to spend the time together that we used to do, so it’s been really fun.
PBJ: What have you learned that surprised you the most from your friends?
Brian Baumgartner: It’s not intended to be a book report. What my recollection is isn’t more important than anyone else’s. It’s an oral history and people remember things differently. There were things that happened on the behind-the-scenes network level that I never knew before. At one point NBC was having some budgetary issues and they wanted to cut some people from the show and Steve Carrell stepped in and told them “no you’re not going to do that.” I never knew that before.
PBJ: It sounds like you’re saying he might have saved your job.
Brian Baumgartner: Well I don’t know if it was mine or whose it would have been, but I was told very specifically about it by Michael Shur and Paul Lieberstein (Toby), who were in the room where it happened to quote Hamilton.
PBJ: When you’re interviewing is there anything you don’t try to touch on?
Brian Baumgartner: No, I don’t think so, and I feel like that has been the greatest gift that everybody who has sat down with me has given me is that sense of exploration and figuring things out.
I think the biggest discovery for me has been in terms of figuring out its enduring popularity. We were making a show to appeal to people who worked in offices. Kevin Reilly, an NBC executive at the same time, said there was no laugh track and it was shot in a different way, but at its core, it was a workplace comedy and that had been a staple of television for Mary Tyler Moore and many other shows. That’s how he viewed it anyway. I remember being on set and thinking that 200 million people work in offices and if just a small portion of them watch us we’re going to be a big hit. But unbeknownst to us, we were also creating a show for kids and young adults. That transition happened because we had an unreasonable boss who makes his employees do things that at times they think are silly, and that equates really well to teachers and students who are stuck in a classroom together doing the same thing from year to year with slightly new people. We didn’t realize this was happening but I think it’s a huge reason for its popularity now.
PBJ: I would also say it’s because the characters were true to themselves and weren’t mean and sniping at each other all the time.
Brian Baumgartner: 100%. I think that’s really astute. On the surface, people say that Michael Scott is nasty or inappropriate, but at its core, these are people who are generally pretty nice to each other and I think that feeling attracts people.