The Office collected plenty of dark moments throughout its run. This is a show whose most enduring plot point is based around a serial killer, after all. But a must-read oral history by Rolling Stone on one of the NBC hit’s greatest episodes has revealed that the show nearly went from dark to jet black. In the season four episode Dinner Party, Jan Levinson, Michael Scott’s live-in girlfriend/dominatrix/candle maker, almost killed the neighbor’s dog on purpose. Seemingly because the party wasn’t going well?
Writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg spend a good portion of the oral history explaining how tight the script was from the outset, getting huge laughs at the table read with almost no changes. The only thing that needed switching up was Jan murdering the dog.
Gene Stupnitsky (co-writer): Most scripts get rewritten, and I think this was the only one ever done that didn’t. The only thing that was changed was that in our first draft Jan hits the neighbor’s dog and kills it on purpose.
Lee Eisenberg (co-writer): We decided that maybe that was going too far.
Considering Jan is left in a somewhat vulnerable and sympathetic spot by the end of the episode, Jan killing a dog probably would’ve changed her character for the worse. How do you come back from that?
Even with the dead dog written out of the script, NBC’s notes weren’t quite specific, beyond “the script is really dark.” That’s true.
Lee Eisenberg (co-writer): We always got notes from the network, and sometimes those could be really contentious, but Greg Daniels always handled them really well and at that point we had a pretty good trust and a good shorthand with the network. So the writers got called in to the office to hear the notes. Greg gets on the phone and the executives are on the other line, on speakerphone. Only the writers have read the scripts so far and this is, you know, before the table read, and they get on the phone, and they go, “This script is really, really dark.” And Greg said, “Yeah.” And there’s a pause and they said, “It’s really dark.” And Greg said, “Yeah. It is.” And they go, “It’s really dark.” And he goes, “Yup.” And then he goes, “OK, anything else, guys?” And they said, “Uh . . . nope.” They hung up and that was it. They didn’t offer any other notes.
So one of The Office‘s best episodes came wholly complete, minus a dead dog, and it was still “really dark.” Really dark, but perfect.
Read the entire oral history over at Rolling Stone.