WVIA, the PBS member station for the Scranton, Pa., area, is a guest star in the final season of the hit NBC sitcom The Office.
The series, based on a BBC show of the same name, follows the quirky lives of employees in the local branch of Dunder Mifflin Paper Co., all subjects of an ongoing but unnamed documentary project. This season, the fictional film crew and their movie project are slowly becoming part of the plot as the real series winds down. And the documentary crew is revealed to be working for WVIA.
In fact, “in the last couple shows the plot points revolve around us,” said Tom Curra, WVIA e.v.p. “I can’t tell you more than that. But we’re involved in the ending.”
The New York Times asked Creator Greg Daniels why he chose PBS as the producer of the documentary within the show. “I tried to think what outlet would shoot something like this and take nine years to do it,” Daniels replied.
In one recent episode, the character of Oscar Martinez is watching a documentary about the Chinese game of mah-jongg on the WVIA website (as a soothing pubcasting narrator intones: “Hobbies of the East continues in a moment”). In another, Martinez’s coworkers gather around his desk to watch the trailer for their documentary. On the computer, an announcer says, “The Office: An American Workplace, coming soon on WVIA,” as the screen reads “Nine nights in May” and shows the station’s logo.
Throughout the episode, characters watch as the documentary trailer is released in various countries worldwide — including in Denmark (a nation with no actual PBS presence).
“Like so many others around the country, we have been fans of The Office for years,” PBS told Current in an email. “On behalf of PBS — and our colleagues in Denmark — we are pleased to be part of the series’ farewell season.”
WVIA is also pleased by the recognition. Doug Cook, v.p. of marketing and special events at the station — which is actually in Pittston, Pa., about six miles south of Scranton — said the Office production company approached the dual licensee in January asking permission to use its logo.
“A lot of stuff on the show actually exists here,” Cook said. “There’s a country radio station bumper sticker on [character] Dwight’s desk for Froggy 101. That’s a real radio station. In another episode, they mention a reporter for the Scranton Times by name.”
The Office producers knew the station created documentaries, so the plot point was a natural fit. “They said they were going to have fun with it, and we said, ‘Sure, go for it.’ We can laugh at ourselves too,” Cook said. “It just felt right, because they’ve really embedded the community into the show.”
WVIA wasn’t financially compensated and also can’t use the clips in which the station is mentioned. “We don’t have the legal rights to it,” Cook said. Original episodes run on the NBC affiliate in the market, WBRE, and the Fox affiliate in the market, WOLF-TV, owns syndicated rights.
The pubcaster also has another high-profile co-starring role coming up. Actress Julianne Moore wears a hoodie emblazoned with the WVIA logo in the film The English Teacher, which opens in May.
The filmmakers “wanted a tie to the local area,” Cook said, “and the main character was a PBS and NPR fanatic” — another perfect fit.