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'The Office' writers credit Apple's first video iPod for boost in popularity with young people

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On Sunday’s episode of the CNN special series History of the Sitcom, two of the top writers and producers of the American version of The Office, Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, talked about the moment they realized their workplace comedy was actually quite popular with younger audiences. And it’s all thanks to the big ticket holiday item of 2005.

“I wrote a Christmas episode where Michael had bought Ryan a video iPod, which had just come out,” Schur said. “About four days later, Apple announces that it has made content deals with NBC. The first episode back was the highest-rated episode because everyone had spent weeks doing nothing but watching The Office on their video iPods.”

The electronic device being referenced appeared in “Christmas Party,” the 10th episode of Season 2, and it was Apple’s iPod Classic fifth generation, the first model that featured video playback on the internal display. And as star Rainn Wilson (Dwight) pointed out, the network noticed a major difference in who was watching the show compared to who they thought was going to be watching it.

“This was astounding to the people at NBC,” Wilson said. “These are high school and college kids watching the show in droves. And they've never set foot in an office.”

The trend of young adults enjoying The Office is now continuing thanks to the streaming age. But whether it’s on an iPod or on Peacock, as Daniels articulated, at the end of the day it’s really just about some good ol' relatable humor.

“Eventually I realized, ‘okay well this is because this is their experience in school,’” Daniels said. “They're put at a desk next to another kid who they may or may not like. That must be what they're identifying with.”

The forces behind the hit show also talked about what changed after the first season was not well received by critics. They decided to stop trying to follow the British version of the show so closely and began to write all of their own stories. (The original British sitcom, created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, ran from 2001 to 2003.)

“I was like, ‘I want Michael to be very optimistic. His intentions had to be good even when he was doing terrible things,’” Daniels said. And Wilson later added, “The American show is just less cynical.”

History of the Sitcom currently airs on Sunday nights at 9:00 p.m. on CNN.

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