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The American Office is a cartoonish, sanitized, safe place to spend time—funny, for sure, but essentially escapist. The British original, by comparison, is a wartier, more authentically miserable place. Pam and Jim are an All-American couple; Dawn and Tim are working-class grunts making it through the day. Michael Scott is a broad, white-bread buffoon; David Brent is a deluded alcoholic.
U.S. audiences now have an excellent opportunity to compare the two: While NBC continues with the sixth season of the American iteration (Thursdays at 9/8c, or 24/7 on Hulu for everyone else), Adult Swim is now syndicating the 12 episodes of the British Office (Fridays at midnight and 4 a.m.).
“I’m a big fan of the American version,” says Kim Manning, Adult Swim’s director of programming. “But it’s so much sillier and broader comedy than the British version, which is as much tragedy at times as it is comedy.”
Adult Swim’s acquisition of the Office is the fourth in a string of imported English cult favorites, including The Mighty Boosh, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, and Look Around You. Arts Desk hung at the water cooler with had a nice phone chat with Manning to discuss stoners, cartoon-lovers, and why Adult Swim is syndicating shows that appeal to neither.
How did you settle on The Office?
KM: There wasn’t actually a lot of thought involved. We were all such fans of the show, and I really think it’s one of the most brilliant things that’s ever been on television. Since we’re picking up other British shows, i think that sensibility just fits in with what we’re doing anyway. I think there’s also a hope that The Office brings an awareness that may raise people’s perception of what we do—I think we have a lot of really smart shows but we can get pigeon-holed as late-night TV for stoners.
You don’t think stoners like The Office?
KM: Oh it’s not that at all. It’s that a lot of people watch the office. But it’s just different from a lot of the stuff you see on our air. I mean, Squid Bellies too is one of the funniest shows on television. People might not know that.
Plan to keep the British invasion going?
KM: I think so. I mean, right now those shows are sort of rotating on and off the schedule. But I think they’ve all been pretty successful for us—The Office premiere did really well for us.* I think we’re hoping we can continue to find British shows.
Do you see your programming shifting away from a younger audience? Even the animated shows which AS seems to be pushing the hardest are aimed at college-and-up crowds.
KM: I don’t think we’re changing the demographic that we target. We’re not targeting teenagers; we’re thinking 18-34ish, young adults, when we program Adult Swim. We’re successful with that, and that’s what we—everyone who works here works here because they like what we do. I mean, I think there’s room for all of it, and we keep expanding the number of hours that we occupy. But I mean, I think all of it fits together in this kind of irreverent…I think there’s a sensibility that ties it all together.
* AS’s ratings bullet cites “solid double-digit gains across young adult and young male audiences compared to the same time period last year…[and] 39% delivery gains among adults 18-34, 16% gains among adults 18-24, 39% gains among men 18-34, 51% gains among men 18-24 and 44% gains among adults 18-49.