The Behind-The-Scenes Story Of ‘Diversity Day,’ The Episode That Defined NBC’s ‘The Office’

Of his iconic TV character from the American version of The Office, Steve Carell once said, “If you don’t know a Michael Scott, then you are Michael Scott.” Actually, it was Ricky Gervais who said that to Scott in regard to his character, David Brent, from the U.K. version of the series, but the basic idea behind it remains terrifying to devoted fans of the hit NBC series. Nobody ever wants to be as awkward and prone to humiliating mistakes both in and out of work like Michael Scott was, but he was certainly a character who was far more realistic than a lot of people realized.

Adapted and developed by Greg Daniels for NBC, the American version of The Office debuted on March 24, 2005, and viewers and critics were intrigued from the start. More than 11 million people tuned in to watch the remake of the British series’ pilot, and it was met with negative reviews from critics who were disappointed that it seemed like a cheap carbon copy. The following week, though, Daniels’ series proved that it could and ultimately would shine on its own, as the episode “Diversity Day” introduced us to the real Michael Scott, and how this horribly awkward goon of a Dunder Mifflin boss would affect the lives of his poor office drones. (In the event you’ve never seen it, the full episode is available on YouTube for $1.99.)

“Diversity Day” has long been praised and remembered by critics as one of the best episodes of the entire nine-season run (IGN, and Entertainment Weekly each ranked it No. 3 all-time, for example). Some might argue that other favorites like “Fun Run,” “Gay Witch Hunt” and “The Dundies” were more enjoyable, but no episode defined the entire series quite like “Diversity Day.” For the 10th anniversary of the debut of the American version of The Office, we spoke with some of the cast and crew to find out how this episode was made, and how much it means to them a decade later.

The pilot after the pilot

It was completely and utterly different from any of the British Office episodes that had aired, which was really important.

According to Greg Daniels, “The Office” wasn’t originally meant for NBC. If things had gone according to plan, the series would have ended up at FX because of Kevin Reilly’s interest in the adaptation. However, when Reilly left FX to become the President of NBC, he carried over that interest and NBC had its next big series. Daniels still didn’t want it to become “a typical NBC show,” so his strategy was to produce the pilot as a remake so the following episodes would allow the writers to keep their “weird show” and take on five big topics to fill out the rest of the first season. That started with “Diversity Day,” which was written by B.J. Novak and directed by Ken Kwapis.

GREG DANIELS, Adapter and Executive Producer: When I was making my first notes on adapting the show, I felt like the biggest, sweetest, low-hanging fruit for a show about a boss and a workplace in America, that had sensitivity issues, was going to be race relations. I thought that was bigger here than it was in England, because of our country’s history. I was considering doing that as the pilot. I thought it would be really good.

KEN KWAPIS, Director: I directed the pilot, and I feel like “Diversity Day” set the bar really high in terms of the quality of the show. At the time, we were prepping the episode, Larry Wilmore was on the writing staff as a consultant. Greg Daniels and I were talking about different ideas for the role of Mr. Brown, the diversity training specialist, and I had worked with Larry. I directed the pilot of The Bernie Mac Show, which actually won Larry an Emmy for best half-hour script. Not as many people knew Larry at the time as a performer. He was known more as a writer, but I remember saying to Greg that Larry would be so great in this role. He carries himself with such an authoritative quality. Greg agreed and Mr. Brown was born.

MICHAEL SCHUR, Producer and Writer: It was completely and utterly different from any of the British Office episodes that had aired, which I think was really important. The pilot of the American Office skewed pretty closely to the British Office. But I remember thinking it was a really good idea to have the second episode just be a completely different story. The tone was still the same, which was that the boss is doing something humiliating, but there wasn’t a direct equivalent at all in the British series. So, I remember thinking, “Boy, that’s a really smart move to show people, we’re not just taking the scripts from the British show and re-creating them.”

DANIELS: I had a concept which I had kind of thought about on King of the Hill, which is something I call the “Ur story.” It’s the idea that this is the classic story for the show. And for King of the Hill it was probably the story, or at least we felt it was the story, where Hank has a colonoscopy. Because it got the most comedy out of his psychological makeup that you could think of. At least at the time, in the first season. So, a lot of times we would look back on that episode and think this is maybe a variant on that episode. “Diversity Day” was kind of the Ur story for The Office because afterwards there were all these other days where it would be, like, today it’s “Gay Witch Hunt,” or today we’re going to deal with overweight issues in the office or workplace.