In Tales of the Early Internet, Mashable explores online life through 2007 — back before social media and the smartphone changed everything.
In 2005, when The Office was struggling to escape the shadow of the British version, establish a fanbase, and earn ratings worthy of future season renewals, the cast members, writers, and showrunners turned to the internet for help.
Stars of The Office who’ve become household names over the past 15 years — B.J. Novak, Jenna Fischer, Angela Kinsey, and Kate Flannery — were largely unknown in the early days of filming. So they would directly communicate with fans on Myspace in hopes of growing the show’s audience. Among those fans was Jennie Tan, creator of OfficeTally.com, an Office fansite that became a one-stop source for show-related interviews, behind-the-scenes details, and impassioned weekly discussions.
Whenever a new episode of The Office aired, millions of superfans logged onto OfficeTally to rate the latest Dunder Mifflin shenanigans and chat about their favorite jokes, characters, and scenes. In a Zoom interview, Tan — known on OfficeTally as “Tanster” — told Mashable that she had no specific goals when she created the blog in February 2006. But more than 3,300 posts, 141,000 comments, and millions of users later, she’s reflecting on what accidentally became one of the most popular fansites of the 2000s.
OfficeTally wasn’t just for fans, though. Nearly everyone who worked on The Office religiously checked the site, too. The show’s writers took OfficeTally’s comment sections to heart, and the on-site feedback notably influenced the series. The site helped shape Jim and Pam’s relationship, convinced NBC to supersize a few episodes, and even led to Tan’s two guest roles on the show.
Without Myspace, OfficeTally’s expansive online fandom might never have existed.
If you weren’t online much in the mid-to-late 2000s or didn’t become a fan of The Office until it went off the air, you’ve likely never heard of OfficeTally. I’ve been obsessed with the workplace comedy since its first season, but hadn’t heard of the fansite until recently, when it received a shoutout on Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey’s Office Ladies podcast and was highlighted in Andy Greene’s book, The Office (The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s: An Oral History).
When The Office premiered in March 2005, social media wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is today. Facebook hadn’t extended membership beyond college students yet and Twitter hadn’t yet launched — but we did have Myspace, which the actors loved. Some, like Fischer and Kinsey, documented their early days on set in Myspace blog posts — several of which are preserved in posts on OfficeTally. And occasionally, actors would log onto Myspace when filming background scenes and surf the site at their desks.
After watching Season 2 episode 4, “The Fire,” which Novak wrote, Tan messaged him on Myspace. In Greene’s oral history of The Office, Tan revealed that she complimented Michael Scott quoting “Image is everything,” a memorable line from tennis player Andre Agassi’s ’90s Canon commercial. Much to her surprise, Novak replied and thanked her.
“Oh my god. I was just in shock. Once B.J. responded to me, I’m thinking, ‘Dang, I’m gonna see if any of the other cast will reply. So Jenna, Angela, and Kate were all on there,” Tan said with the famous photo of the cast that heads OfficeTally set as her Zoom background.
“I don’t think any of this would have happened without Myspace.”
Originally, OfficeTally was nothing but a weekly poll on a WordPress site.
“I would post a poll every time an episode aired and ask people to come rate it,” Tan said.
Fansites like Northern Attack had already mastered episode commentary, so she didn’t pursue that, but as her polls grew more popular she began sharing Office-related news, documenting episode quotes, and holding creative contests for users.
Little did Tan know, while she was watching The Office, the show’s writers were watching OfficeTally.
“Everyone on that show went on OfficeTally. It was the pulse of what the people who were fans of the show were feeling about it,” Mary Hall, assistant to showrunner Greg Daniels said in Greene’s The Office: An Oral History.
“All of the writers were obsessed with [the site]. We’d still be at work when the episodes would air on the East Coast, so we’d go onto OfficeTally and we would go on to look at the comments, all just wanting approval,” writer Gene Stupnitsky told Greene. “Those people had so much influence over us.”
The writers admittedly compared episode ratings and checked to see which jokes fans got the biggest kicks out of, but one of the major reasons they kept tabs on the site was to monitor chatter about Jim and Pam.
“OfficeTally [used] this phrase ‘squee.’ Whenever Jim and Pam had a moment, like when they were playing jinx all day and one of them finally spoke or Pam put her head on Jim’s shoulder in ‘Diversity Day,’ those are all ‘squee’ moments,” Stupnitsky told Greene.
Writer Lee Eisenberg went on to tell Greene, “We would actually unironically talk about squee moments in the episodes. We’d be like, ‘We haven’t had a squee moment in a long time. We need something. We need a squee.'”
Before the oral history was published in March 2020, Tan had no idea that her site had that strong of an influence in the writer’s room. “I was completely shocked by what the writers said about OfficeTally,” she said. “I started off just putting up polls and little did I know the writers were looking at them every week and joshing each other like ‘my episode rated higher than yours.’ It’s crazy.”
OfficeTally fans also made visible impacts, like when they worked to get two episodes “supersized,” or lengthened. In 2006, ahead of the Season 2 finale, “Casino Night,” Greg Daniels voiced his desire for a supersized episode in a Chicago Tribune interview. After a fan petition was launched, the episode got to run for 28 minutes instead of 22 minutes. OfficeTally users were ecstatic.
“‘Casino Night’ took down my site, because at the time I didn’t understand web hosting. I was on a shared server, and if you sucked up too much bandwidth, they’d suspend your account,” Tan recalled. “Hours before ‘Casino Night’ my account got suspended because there was too much traffic going to it.”
In 2013, ahead of the series finale, an OfficeTally petition came to the rescue again. Daniels told the Chicago Tribune he hoped NBC would let them stretch the final episode longer than an hour. After more than 20,000 fans signed Tan’s petition to Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC Entertainment at the time, the episode received 15 extra minutes of airtime.
The OfficeTally community’s unwavering enthusiasm for The Office meant so much to the people on the show that they developed close relationships with Tan over the years. They gave her exclusive interviews for the site, visited the OfficeTally chatroom to interact with fans, and welcomed Tan to The Office set six times. Her on-set visits also led to other exclusive content for the site, such as “The Mindy Song,” an impromptu jam sesh between Ed Helms (on banjo) and Creed Bratton (on guitar) that Tan filmed back in 2009.
“At one point, they had a small audience, including Mindy Kaling, who requested, ‘Play a song for me!'” Tan told OfficeTally users in a blog post. Actors B.J. Novak and Eillie Kemper, along with director and producer Paul Feig can also be seen in Tan’s footage.
Tan was so beloved that she even landed a guest appearance in the Season 5 episode, “Company Picnic,” and was given a key speaking role in the Q&A scene of the series finale. (Full disclosure: Tan asked for the appearances. But the team said yes. Can you imagine that happening today?)
“When they announced that the series was going to end, I wrote Greg Daniels and said, ‘Is there any chance that I could come down, visit the set, and appear on the last episode?’ He wrote back in like five minutes and said, ‘I will give you lines.’ I didn’t ask for lines, so I was totally freaking out.”
Tan flew from Palo Alto to Burbank to film. After a few cuts and rewrites, she delivered the lines, “I have a question for Jim and Pam. Everyone watching sees how much you love each other and how you’re soulmates. So Pam, how could you doubt that when Jim moved to Philadelphia?” and “Like Harry Potter?”
Since an OfficeTally comment inspired her to ask Daniels for the finale cameo, Tan was extra excited for the big reveal. When the episode aired four months later, OfficeTally users were overjoyed to see The Office had recognized their community with this little Easter egg.
“There were fans on OfficeTally that had been coming for many years. I got to know them through their handles and even got to meet some of them in person. I was looking at the post for the final episode, and it’s just really nice to see — over 500 comments and people posting their goodbye messages, talking about how long they’d been coming to the site,” Tan said. “We had a nice little community.”
When asked why she thinks OfficeTally became such a successful online community and a trusted show resource, Tan said a bunch of pieces fell perfectly into place.
Myspace helped her develop relationships with people on the show, and the fact that The Office needed to grow its audience made the writers more open to considering fan feedback. But Tan feels the 40 hours a week she put into updating and moderating the site helped make OfficeTally such an admired online community.
“The comment policy back in the day was crazy detailed. I look at it now and just laugh because it’s pretty damn picky,” Tan said. “Comments that ended up on the site were very articulate and polite. There was good-spirited conversation. I took the moderating super seriously, because I didn’t want it to turn into a free-for-all or a mosh pit.”
“I think OfficeTally was a safe place,” she continued. “The site wasn’t about tabloid gossip. It was a very objective documenting of the show’s quotes… I really wanted it to be a resource for the show and not something salacious that talked about the cast’s private lives. And I think that’s why the writers really grew to trust me as a superfan and someone they could work with.”
In 2006, Tan had nearly unrestricted access to the stars of The Office. She could simply DM them on Myspace and they’d receive her messages. Today, social media verification processes drive a bit of a wedge between fans and celebrities. Once an account is verified on Twitter, for instance, the account holder has the ability to filter their notifications to specifically see likes, mentions, and retweets from fellow verified accounts only. Celebrities are likely tweeted at by fans at an overwhelming rate, and while that blue check helps popular figures cut the noise, it also makes it harder for non-verified users to get noticed by or connect with them.
Fansites were big in the late ’90s and early 2000s because there were fewer places to gather online. Fandom was more concentrated and intimate back then, but as social media expanded, many fansites dispersed and broke into smaller fan armies. Nowadays, armies pool in Facebook groups, flock to subreddits, mingle on Tumblr, and are scattered across Twitter — where opinions freely fly with little constraint or moderation. OfficeTally didn’t represent all fans of the show, but you knew the millions of people who logged onto the site post-episode were superfans. Now, you can find Office superfans anywhere.
The shift towards mass episode dumps on streaming services and away from appointment TV has also played a part in the fall of fansites. “Knowing you’re watching these shows with bunches of other people simultaneously conveys that feeling of community,” Tan said. “The ability to watch any episode at any time really messes with my head.”
Though Tan ran another short-lived OfficeTally-style blog about the 2013 drama, Hannibal, she doesn’t know if she’d ever make another fansite.
“You have to be in from the ground floor. I’m just starting to watch Schitt’s Creek and I’m hooked, but I couldn’t do a blog on the show. It’s too late. So I don’t think it could happen again for me.”
The fact that The Office writers wholeheartedly embraced and engaged with OfficeTally was a rare occurrence, and Tan knows it. “If The Office started airing now I doubt it would be the same kind of access as it was back in 2006,” she said. Tan has mixed feelings about any future Office reboot, but if the series were to return with its original showrunners, producers, and cast, she’d consider bringing OfficeTally back to cover it.
“OfficeTally was really like the perfect storm; the perfect set of circumstances. To this day, I still marvel at the fact that because of my blog, and because of Myspace, I got to do all of these different things,” Tan said.