Threat Level Midnight

Now that we’ve had some time to think about it, the 2000s were not a terribly good decade for television. The decade started with the meteoric rise of “reality television,” which of course is anything but real. All the actual success stories of reality TV started back then: Survivor, Big Brother, The Bachelor, Dancing with the Stars… they all date back to the days of tube TVs. Few new shows have managed to hang on.

The other thing we’ll tend to remember about the 2000s was the writers’ strike of 2007-2008. When TV writers stopped working in the heart of the production season, it cut a lot of promising shows short. It changed viewer habits permanently.

How these trends propelled The Office to new heights

The Office premiered on NBC in the fall of 2005. It was a recreation of a popular British TV show, also called The Office. While audiences didn’t really bond with the first season, NBC kept the show going and continued to fine-tune it. Today it’s considered one of the best-produced programs of the era.

As we all know, The Office used a faux documentary format to create the illusion that you were watching a very funny reality TV show. This really wouldn’t have been possible at any time before this. Digital video made it possible to shoot with a lot more cameras, and by 2005 viewers understood what reality TV looked like.

At the same time, the production schedule of the show required a lot more work than other shows of the time. Typical half-hour shows were often written one week, shot the next, and edited in the days after shooting. The Office took a lot more work and planning. While it seemed very off-the-cuff, every shot was planned and everything right down to Jim Halpert’s goofy expression was carefully planned ahead of time.

This tough production schedule meant that The Office had 17 episodes delivered during the period of the writers’ strike. Other shows were cut to three or four episodes during that time, although most made up at least a partial season in ’08.

So, viewers were really primed for a reality/scripted hybrid at that moment, and the writers’ strike exposed the show to new viewers. Total win for everyone.

Threat Level Midnight

In a season two episode, the staff finds Michael Scott’s screenplay for Threat Level Midnight. It’s a silly retelling of a spy story with characters obviously taken from Michael’s coworkers. Years later, in an ambitious episode, the producers of The Office actually produced the screenplay and aired it in February, 2011. The episode shows the cast watching the movie, with cut scenes showing the actual production.

I’m told that the full version of Threat Level Midnight could be found on Blu-rays of The Office but now, finally, it’s available online. The official account has posted the entire video for you to see here, including a lot of content that didn’t make it to the episode.

This is the kind of thing that only a mature, confident show could pull off and they pull it off really well. It’s produced almost exactly the way that an amateur video would be, and the acting is predictably bad. Not only that, it was edited and shot to look like it had been produced over the course of several years, to match the show’s reality.

A reminder…

The Office is one of the shows that will be leaving Netflix in the next year. Netflix hopes you’ll like their slate of original programs well enough to ignore the fact that their two most highly watched shows are leaving for other services.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.