How the 1st 'Office' Christmas episode helped save struggling show: 'From there we really took off'

Brian Baumgartner and Angela Kinsey in 'The Office' (NBC/Everett Collection)
Brian Baumgartner and Angela Kinsey in 'The Office' (Photo: NBC/Everett Collection)

When it comes to Hollywood and the holidays, it’s usually someone who saves Christmas.

But for once, it was actually Christmas that helped save The Office.

So recount Dunder Mifflin alumni Brian Baumgartner and Angela Kinsey, who spoke to Yahoo Entertainment recently after ironically reuniting as ambassadors for the paperless notepad brand Rocketbook.

“We were almost canceled two, three, four, 10, 12 times at the beginning,” explains Baumgartner, who played the clumsy, uncouth chili lover Kevin Malone on the hit NBC sitcom from 2005 to 2013.

“We were struggling week to week,” agrees Kinsey, who played the tightly wound cat (and Dwight) lover Angela Martin.

Angela Kinsey and Brian Baumgartner (Rocketbook)
Angela Kinsey and Brian Baumgartner (Photo: Rocketbook)

After a ho-hum first season of only six episodes in the spring of 2005 — largely just Americanized versions of Ricky Gervais’s original British series — the series began picking up momentum a few episodes into its second run that fall.

On Dec. 6, 2005, The Office aired its 10th episode of the second season, “Christmas Party,” in which the crew’s holiday festivities turned into a disaster (natch) after bumbling boss Michael Scott (Steve Carell) lubricated the workforce with booze and let chaos reign on the Secret Santa exchange by allowing his staff steal each other’s gifts, turning it into a “Yankee Swap.” (The episode also included a key moment involving a teapot in the will-they-or-won’t-they subplot building between John Krasinski’s Jim and Jenna Fischer’s Pam.)

It was a monumental moment for the fledging series, with the episode drawing more than 10 million viewers for the first time since its earliest episodes. Shortly after, Carell landed a Golden Globe nomination, and was a surprise winner. NBC also began uploading episodes to iTunes for the first time, where the show established itself as an early download favorite.

“We had declined rapidly and then came back and [that episode] really served as a significant event for us,” says Baumgartner. “And from there we really took off.”

“After that episode aired, we were the number one streaming show on iTunes and all of a sudden we were like, ‘Hold up. We found our audience,’” Kinsey remembers. “It turned a corner from there and we were set.”

Baumgartner loves “Christmas Party” for other reasons, too.

“I think it's really hilarious,” he says. And the other thing is while some of the secondary characters had storylines before that, it was an episode that was truly an ensemble. Everybody had something, or some moment, some storyline around the Secret Santa swap.”

It also had a deeply memorable ending, with an intoxicated Meredith (Kate Flannery) flashing Michael, who quickly snaps a picture of her.

“Steve Carell’s face at the end of that episode when Meredith flashes him and he takes the pic … it’s just genius,” Baumgartner says.

After the success of “Christmas Party,” the holiday episodes became a near-annual tradition, with with a total of nine during the series’ run (including, two two-part installments in Seasons 3 and 7).

“They just became kind of legend episodes,” says Kinsey. “We were like, ‘Oh my God, there’s another one. It's a Christmas time.’ We loved dressing up. The set always looked great. We knew there was gonna be some ridiculous drama. Everyone just really loved those episodes.”