An accidental collaboration with Apple saved NBC sitcom The Office from cancellation during its second season.
A fifth-generation iPod took a starring role in an episode of the comedy series. Then, the unlikely cameo spurred sales of reruns of the show on iTunes. And the rest is history.
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How Apple, iTunes and the iPod saved The Office
Welcome to Dunder Mifflin tells the background story of the production of The Office. Mashable took a deep dive into the recently released book and found that Apple played a surprisingly large role in keeping the show on the air in 2005.
The series was close to being canceled when the episode “Christmas Party” aired. It’s about the turmoil that results from Michael Scott (the dunderheaded office manager played by Steve Carell) mixing a new iPod video into the company’s Secret Santa exchange.
The first iPod capable of playing video debuted in October 2005. Shortly afterward, Apple began offering videos through iTunes.
“That year, everyone got everyone a video iPod for Christmas. And when you got a video iPod and set it up and went to the iTunes Store, the first thing that you saw was The Office and the Christmas episode,” said Mike Schur, who wrote the episode. “It was the number one watched thing on iTunes for 30 consecutive days. So everyone spends the entire break watching that episode and then other episodes of the show.”
Not a paid product placement
Apple did not pay to get the iPod featured spot in the episode. But the Mac-maker did eventually provide free computers for the set. And it advertised during the show.
Someone at the company was apparently a big fan. In Welcome to Dunder Mifflin, Brian Baumgartner (who played Kevin Malone on the show) recalls going into an Apple Store and seeing posters for The Office.
The popularity of the series on iTunes convinced NBC to keep the show on the air. “We became a hit because of iTunes, and we’re being discovered by a new generation today thanks to streaming services like Netflix,” said Baumgartner.