According to The Onion, CBS is set to release its own version of The Office.

The show’s pilot, a shot-for-shot re-creation of NBC’s Office pilot, features comedian David Spade as boss Peter Craig, the fun-loving and inspirational boss of a small-town Ohio paper company.

“Having David on the project is such a thrill,” said Klein, who offered Spade the part after Ray Romano and Kevin James turned down the role. “Don’t get me wrong—Steve Carell is great, but David’s combination of zippy one-liners and all-out zaniness just can’t be beat.”

The remake will also feature the same will-they-won’t-they love story between a plain-looking receptionist engaged to a man from the company’s warehouse who doesn’t appreciate her, and a perfectly suited coworker who pines for her from afar. But producers at CBS said the love triangle will be “completely revamped” for the new series, as new names have been created for all three characters.

“The budding romance between Jen and Tom is really the foundation of the show,” said director Howard Gatson, who has made their connection “more believable” by casting more traditionally attractive actors in the roles. “People are going to tune in every week to see if Jen will ever leave her fiancé to be with Tom. And they’ll be so relieved when she finally does in episode three.”

The Onion kids, of course. But I have seriously been wondering why CBS (and ABC and FOX) haven’t done their own version of The Office. Obviously, they’d need to ditch the documentary angle and the cast. They’d also need to try to find some different lens from which to view it. They’d need to make it a little less zany in the vein of Office Space or more outlandish like Dilbert, most likely. But the success of Michael Scott and the Pam/Jim storyline only accounts for part of the show’s success. A lot of it comes down to the familiarity of the office environment. There are lots of archetypes that we’ve worked with that aren’t used by that show.

It used to be that whenever a show was successful you could count on seeing some clones pop up either on the same network or a different network. Beverly Hillbillies was followed by Petticoat Junction and Green Acres, for instance. The Friends format has become a friggin’ institution.

Another show I am surprised was never really copied was The West Wing. The West Wing knock-off even has a built in angle to capture fans alienated by TWW. Make the president a conservative Republican. I don’t know if Hollywood could pull off a sympathetic Republican president and I’m not sure if I would have liked it, but surely Fox could have given it a go. But heck, they could have had another liberal Democrat (or an independent whose enemy was Republican, a la Geena Davis) and taken it in a slightly different direction.

There is some stigma around a show being a “copycat”, but I think it’s a mistake to apply it. The 3-on-3 format of Friends was successfully adapted by Living Single, Two Guys and a Girl, and Coupling. Though they all had the 3-on-3 format, they were each had something to differentiate itself from Friends. The same producers from Cheers produced Wings, which had a similar backdrop but a unique set of things to like and dislike about it.

In addition to different experiments using the same basic ingredients, it also gives viewers an opportunity to further immerse themselves in things that they can enjoy. Having 48 episodes of The Office would be far too many and the characters would become stagnant, but having a copycat show would allow me to enjoy some of the same things that I do about The Office (laughing in 9-to-5 despair) and do so without character stagnation. There are seven nights a week of television to watch and there are 30 weeks a year where a new episode of a given show is not coming on.

Why are the only shows replicated these days those reality TV shows and prime-time gameshows? Some of it is risk-aversion (such shows cost little to set up) but you would think going with an already successful formula would also be more prudent. And how come when they do retread a concept to death, it’s typically the dumbest ones (sitcom with teacher teaching cute cute kids!! Hefty slob of a husband with sexy, all-knowing wife!) or the ones that have little in the way of ongoing storylines (Law & Order and CSI)?

Most frustrating. There is room in the world for both Garfield and Heathcliffe!


Category: Theater

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8 Responses to Calling All Copycats

  1. Webmaster says:

    Will,

    I have to disagree – I think the knockoffs/spinoffs tend to really cheapen a show.

    Think about it: how many bad “reality series” did Survivor spawn?

    One of the nice things I’ve found about watching anime is that there aren’t too many copycat series, and when there is a series that’s a copycat, it generally pops up a couple years after the original rather than trying to co-exist with it. There’s some exception with the Sentai shows, but that’s a formula that’s been around for multiple generations.

    The Japanese generally have a better grasp of one thing we in America (and in Europe too) have lost sight of; stopping a show when it’s still good, rather than trying to run it forever and beat it into the ground (InuYasha and Dragonball/Z/GT excepted).

  2. trumwill says:

    I commented on the proliferation of reality TV shows. It’s one of the places where the copycat formula is being applied and for the worst. It’s not the replication that’s the problem, it’s the formula. I don’t think all of the Law & Order replicates have really cheapened that show because I like that show.

    England does a pretty good job of ending shows when it’s time. They also have the advantage of having shorter seasons, which I’m increasingly convinced is a benefit (I think the 10-15 episode seasons of cable shows increase the quality considerably).

  3. Webmaster says:

    I don’t necessarily see England’s shorter seasons as a blessing or a curse; if you’ve got enough material for 24-26 episodes, do 24-26, if not, do less.

    What I have a problem with is too many shows that run well after they’ve completely run out of ideas or lost main actors/characters (“That ’70s Show” would have been best if it were cut off about 2-3 episodes earlier than they did).

  4. Peter says:

    Some shows can stay on the air for many years without running out of ideas. The Simpsons remains fresh, with the occasional exception, despite having been on the air for, seemingly, forever. On the other hand, Seinfeld ran for a number of seasons despite having just one basic concept.

  5. Webmaster says:

    Peter,

    “the Simpsons” is still fresh? More like “ripe” as in fruit that’s been sitting on the tree too long – I’ve seen the last couple seasons, and they’re just getting worse and worse.

  6. trumwill says:

    Sometimes a show doesn’t have to go bad to become less interesting. Even if The Simpsons were as good today as it was a decade ago, I still probably wouldn’t watch. The concept has gotten old even if the material is still really good.

    I just finished watching Frasier. I lost interest around the 8th season or so. Having watched seasons 9-11 I’ve come to realize that the show was just as good as it had always been. But I needed to take a few years off to be able to appreciate it. I’d imagine the same would be true for The Simpsons.

    I agree with Web that American television does have a problem letting shows have a more natural end. I wish that producers would have a 1-season, 3-season, 5-season, and 7-season plan. I’m not opposed to longer plans, but they need to have an idea early on what they’re going to do when the youngest daughter of the family sitcom is 17 and if they can’t come up with something good, let the show run its course. I think that it would make for better entertainment if the show were more pro-active rather than re-active. That’s something Japan definitely does better.

    One thing that American TV has been doing a lot more of lately are the serial shows with long story archs. This was one of the things that I much preferred about anime for the longest time. But now we’ve got Lost, Heroes, 24, Jericho, and a host of others. Enough that people are probably going to get tired of it, shows will start being cancelled, and people will become hesitant to invest themselves in a new series that is likely doomed.

  7. Peter says:

    People often think that The Simpsons is a little “overripe” today because they remember what it was like years ago. While the show today isn’t what it used to be, it’s still fresher and more innovative than 90% of the stuff being shown.

  8. Spungen says:

    I didn’t even know Frasier was on anymore its last three years or so.

    The Simpsons isn’t what it used to be, but I agree with Peter it’s still pretty good. Or maybe I’m just attached to it.

    As for the Office copycat, I will watch it for David Spade. I hope he still does The Showbiz Show, though.

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