March 24, 2005
I'll admit it. I'm a bit of an anglophile. Two of my favorite comedies in recent years just happen to be the handiwork of the BBC and I'm fine with that. If you have ever caught the brilliance of Coupling or The Office, you might even agree with me on that front. Yet if you were one of the unfortunate ones to see General Electric's (NYSE: GE ) NBC butcher Coupling with a horrendous American version two years ago, you may already be cringing to learn that NBC will debut its own version of The Office tonight.
NBC has been struggling in recent years to fill the void left behind by Friends, Seinfeld, and Frasier, and that hole has only darkened as its rivals have strengthened. Viacom's (NYSE: VIA ) CBS has become a force with CSI and Survivor, while Disney's (NYSE: DIS ) ABC was awakened out of its ratings slumber with runaway hits Lost and Desperate Housewives. Fox (NYSE: FOX ) now hogs the earlier half of the week with American Idol's magnetism.
While NBC hasn't been exactly asleep at the wheel -- The Apprentice proved to be a huge hit -- the network could use another blockbuster. After cynically watching over a dozen clips of NBC's latest import, I think The Office may be the sitcom hit that NBC has been longing for.
Now, I realize that office-based comedies are usually a recipe for network disaster. Dilbert and Andy Richter Controls the Universe are but two shows that failed to attract an audience even while the movie Office Space grew to become a cult hit. The Office, which can best be described as one dash Dilbert, two scoops Office Space served dry -- very dry -- will be given a fair chance to succeed. It has a strong lead-in as it will air after The Apprentice tonight.
The original version, which is available on Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) or at a DVD retailer near you, lasted all of two seasons and concluded with a warm and fuzzy two-part holiday special that wrapped up all of the show's loose ends. That doesn't mean the stateside version will have the same lifespan. While the characters are essentially the same, if the show catches on (and that may take some time because the show's biting humor can be an acquired taste), General Electric will have no problem extending the corporate downsizing, angst, and office politics for as long as viewers -- and sponsors -- are willing to bear.
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz will be tuning in, even though he thinks it will be hard for the new cast to top the brilliant ensemble that Ricky Gervais assembled for the original. He owns shares in Disney and Netflix.The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.