Doh! Ex-Simpsons writer Greg Daniels reveals how he almost missed opportunity to adapt The Office for US

A multi-Emmy winning comedy writer known for his work on the Simpsons, King of the Hill and The Office dropped into Salford University yesterday to address his legions of fans.

The respected television comedy writer, producer, and director headed to the MediaCityUK campus to host ‘In Conversation with Greg Daniels’, as part of the BBC Salford Comedy Festival, which is in partnership with BBC Writersroom.

Henry R Swindell, Development Producer for BBC Writersroom, hosted the talk with an audience of aspiring comedians and Daniels fans.

Over the last 21 years, Greg has contributed his comical genius to some of the US’s most popular export comedies including The Simpsons, King of the Hill and the American version of The Office.

Greg’s urge to make people laugh started from a very young age when he hijacked the Calendar of Events column in his high school newspaper to crack jokes and make wise cracks.

“I always imagined myself writing under a fake name, you know a pseudonym, but that never worked out,” he said.

During his time at Harvard University, he met close friend Conan O’Brien and they worked together on the University’s own Comedy Magazine, The Harvard Lampoon.

Once graduated the two men landed a three-week-trial on Saturday Night Live and they worked there for three successful years, despite being two of the youngest on the team.

 “The older, more professional writers would want to do a sketch on like German models and we’d always want to do the story where a guy gets chilli in his beard,” said Greg.

“I left the show when my contract was up and moved to Los Angeles with my Finance and started writing screenplay.”

After a brief stint working for Not Necessarily the News, Greg was hired during the fifth season of The Simpsons.

“It was at an interesting time, just as the original writing staffs were leaving,” said Greg. “There was a lot of tension.

“I loved the show and it was a great place to work. I worked my way up; I had about 8 or 10 years of experience at the time.”

After receiving an Emmy nomination in the ‘Outstanding Individual Achievement in Music and Lyrics’ category and winning a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program, Greg left for pastures new.

His next adventure was King of the Hill were he became co-creator of the show after working on the pilot episode and creating new characters.

“There is a great tradition in great character comedies, they all have the same trajectories, they never start out well,” Greg said.

The programme soon became a big hit and Greg worked with co-creature Mike Judge on the show for 12 years. 

Toward the end of his time at King of The Hill, Greg started to focus on other things before eventually leaving the show.

“One day my agent sent me a tape for The Office and it didn’t have a very exciting title so I just put it to one side,” Greg said.

After threats by his agent to offer the opportunity to someone else, Greg eventually watched series one of the British mockumentary.

He said: “I stayed up until the early hours watching it – I loved it.”

Using the original pilot episode of The Office, Greg began making changes to the script in order to make it more ‘America friendly’ and optimistic.

“I wanted to get underway with the Jim and Pam characters so I added a few scenes. I added about a third to start with but I actually ended up editing out my own stuff.”

The pilot was aired on NBC in March 2005 and a further five episodes were filmed and aired shortly after.

“I never thought I would go to a network channel. We were all sceptical it would work on NBC,” Greg said.

“We wrote a further five episodes not based on the British show but still based on its spirit.”

Following the monumental success of The Office, Greg was asked to come up with an idea for a spin-off to the show.

After trying out several different ideas, Greg and co-creator Mike Schur finally decided that it just wouldn’t work.

“Sometimes you get it right and sometimes you just have to change it.”

After signing lead, Amy Poehler to the programme the idea for Political mockumentary Parks and Recreation was born.

Although the show received its fair share of negatives reviews to start with, much like The Office, the programme soon took America by storm.

Last year, after 4 years of juggling with The Office and Parks and Recreation, Greg returned full-time to The Office for its ninth and final series.

The talk lasted just over an hour but Greg could have easily continued for another three.

After a quick Q&A session the event was drawn to a close, much to the dismay of the many fans all hoping for their chance to ask the master a question. 

Image courtesy of Ole Olson, via Flickr, with thanks.

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