'The Office' wedding gift: Jim and Pam's healthy relationship
"There won't be the spouse who thinks they're making a mistake, or the ex who comes and tries to break it up," executive producer Paul Lieberstein says, citing two common examples of TV-wedding drama. Instead, he thinks the show will play as if "you're going to a friend's wedding, and they're a good couple."
The idea that a couple can be relatively conflict-free and still be funny and interesting has guided the Jim-Pam romance on "The Office" for several seasons now. It's made their relationship a rarity on TV, where relationships tend to be fraught with breakups and makeups and other calamities. Exec producer Greg Daniels, who brought the show to American TV, calls Jim and Pam "soulmates" and says it wouldn't be fair to the audience to keep playing games with the relationship.
"We didn't feel it would be all that truthful or desirable if we went the tack of them having misunderstandings and dating other people and breaking up and getting back together," Daniels says. "It felt like they were right for each other, and they're kind of the most mature people around in the show."
Daniels and Lieberstein, who also plays Toby, talked with me in separate interviews Wednesday about developing the Jim-Pam relationship and what people can expect in Thursday's wedding episode. Some highlights:
Crafting the characters: Jim and Pam were initially modeled on Tim and Dawn from the British version of "The Office," but the NBC show has mined much more territory simply by virtue of producing so many more episodes.
Daniels: "The big challenge is, the British show basically wrapped up their relationship in about 14 half-hours. I think there was a feeling of, How long can we make it last? After they got together at the end of season three, we've been finding different stories inside their relationship. ... I think we've been able to find other romantic stories that aren't about will they or won't they. ...
"We had other characters who also had romantic lives that we played as more flawed and ridiculous, like Michael getting back together with Jan after her boob job or the whole thing with Dwight, Angela and Andy. So we kind of use those relationships to get our crazy stories out."
Lieberstein: "They're not the kind of couple that once they're together, we can pull them apart, then bring them back together, then pull them apart again. There wasn't a will they-won't they scenario if they were both single. So we had her dating someone [ex-fiance Roy], and then we had him dating someone [Karen], and if we had her date someone again, it would have just been repetitive. So there we were."
The challenges of normalcy: I asked both about what it's like trying to find the comedy in a couple that's as easygoing as Jim and Pam.
Lieberstein: "It's not easy. It's not obvious how we go about that. ... You're asking the question that we ask ourselves every morning. And the answer is, idea by idea. It's just trying to find the little things they go through that aren't conflicts, that aren't things that might break them up, and trying to dramatize them and make them funny."
Daniels: "A show like 'Everybody Loves Raymond,' I don't think they ever broke up, and they were able to find hundreds of funny stories in their relationship. There are plenty of humorous situations, especially when you keep the stories small and real and kind of relatable. Funny things happen to you. And if you're in a relationship, funny things happen inside the relationship, and you don't really think of having to break up with someone or date other people to have a funny story."
The wedding: Pam and Jim are getting married in Niagara Falls (the show shot some scenes for the episode there), but their hope for a small ceremony is dashed when Michael gives the whole office two days off to travel to the wedding. Pam is also trying to keep her pregnancy hidden from her family. Complications ensue.
Daniels: "The challenge for [Pam] and Jim is to have the kind of wedding they'd like to have in the face of all these obstacles. It starts off in a kind of comedic and unromantic way and gets more romantic as it goes along."
Lieberstein: "I guess if someone has been to a destination wedding, they'll see some of their own experiences [in the episode, which Daniels co-wrote with Mindy Kaling]. ... There's always something. Sometimes it comes from the most unexpected place, sometimes not -- probably a little of both. We just kind of play it out like some friends of yours are getting married."
Daniels: "I think if you haven't been following the show, the comedy of two people who work together [and] who end up having to invite their whole office to the wedding is something that's funny. And the efforts to keep the secret of her being pregnant -- too many people know that secret. [Laughs] It's hard to stay on top of all that."
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