The Office: BBC’s fear over Ricky Gervais show after ‘lowest focus group score ever’

Ricky Gervais discusses American version of The Office in 2016

Despite only releasing two seasons and 14 episodes, the British mockumentary won two Golden Globes and a handful of other awards. Written by Gervais and Stephen Merchant, The Office first aired on the BBC in 2001 and a number of hilarious scenes were immortalised in TV history. While the show is now recognised with cult sitcom status, there were doubts before it was released. 

Before The Office was adapted for the US, where 201 episodes and nine seasons were made, Gervais felt two seasons was enough for the British show. 

He said: “There was not even a part of me that thinks, ‘I wonder if we could do another one’, we just mustn’t.”

Gervais’ beliefs were echoed by Merchant, who felt there was “nowhere really left for us to take it” when they concluded the show in 2002.

When the series first aired, Martin Freeman, who starred as Tim Canterbury, admitted that it “wasn’t greatly, greatly watched or greatly fated”.

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Gervais was a relatively new face on TV screens after receiving praise for several comedies on ITV and Channel 4.

He said: “We were nobodies and we hadn’t written before, hadn’t directed before, hadn’t acted before.

“The reason they sort of let us get on with it was because it didn’t cost much.”

Gervais revealed that they were under additional pressure after a survey group, which measured how audiences would receive the show, went terribly wrong.

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While the feedback was not positive, Gervais maintained that their shoestring budget prevented the BBC from discontinuing the production.

Gervais said: “After the focus group, they could have pulled it because we got the joint-lowest score ever of any focus group along with women’s bowls.” 

Merchant admitted that it was looking “pretty bad” for the show and he was amazed that The Office made it to air.

Similarly Freeman, who went onto star in the Hollywood blockbuster The Hobbit, also confessed: “It must have been worrying for the BBC.”

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Gervais claimed to have only realised “the show had taken off” when he was confronted by a homeless person, who flattered him with praise.

He recalled: “I don’t know where the homeless watch it, through Dixons’ [now Currys] window or something? 

“But he went, ‘Ah man, I’ve just been to HMV, I just nicked loads of your DVDs!’”

Gervais comments were made during The Office: Closed for Business in 2004 but in recent years, the comedian has reflected further on the show. 

When he received the first cheque for The Office DVDs, he felt “guilty and ashamed” because it was “more than” his father “used to earn in a year”.

He claimed that “for a split-second it ruined it for” him because he didn’t make the show for the money.

When asked if he felt the same way on the Stuff of Legends podcast last month, Gervais replied: “Oh you do, you still do. 

“It’s a working class thing, you look around and go, ‘I can’t quite enjoy this.’”

The UK version of The Office is available to watch on Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube and Google Play.

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