Office Chat V: Office Tally
About a week ago, Jennie Tan posted a few pictures at OfficeTally.com, her Office fan site, of Jenna Fischer and other cast members at the Blades of Glory premiere party.
Two days later, Fischer posted a blog at her myspace page suggesting fans head over to Tan’s site and check out the photos. Within hours Tan responded with “The Jenna Tally,” a full-blown collection of recent links to photos and media coverage of the Blades event.
Tan threw in a “Thanks Jenna!” for the shout-out, but otherwise downplayed the high-profile mention by one her favorite actresses.
“No, it definitely never gets old,” Tan, who goes by the on-screen nickname Tanster, said via e-mail earlier this week.
“It is always a thrill when I get an e-mail from a member of the cast or I see OT mentioned in one of their blogs. I am thrilled that they actually come to OT! Jenna once said to me ‘I get more news and I’m able to be a much better cast member because of OfficeTally.’ Sweet, right? I know she visits OT all the time.”
Just the phrase ‘Jenna once said to me’ would be enough to knock many’s the fanboy’S or fangirl’s socks off. But Tan, a Silicon Valley technical writer from Palo Alto, Calif., has gotten used to the familiarity she shares with members of The Office cast.
She spent a day on set with the cast and crew a few weeks ago, along with the creator of GiveMeMyRemote.com. And both their sites, along with NorthernAttack.com, were mentioned by Fischer and others on the Season 2 DVD commentary. Throw in countless e-mail exchanges and blog shout-outs, and Tan could be forgiven for not quite swooning every time. And yet, like she says, it never gets old.
OfficeTally, perhaps the most extensive collection of Office-related news, links, fan art, discussions and episode recaps, marked its one-year anniversary Feb. 4. The site attracts an astonishing 500,000 unique visitors a month, according to Tan.
Office Tally began as a forum for fans to rate episodes – hence the word “Tally” in the title. Tan shyly admits what could be like a part-time job is actually more like a second full-time job, since she spends at least 35 hours a week maintaining the site.
What follows, in her own words, is the story of OfficeTally…and of course, the bonus round.
What’s it like meeting the stars of the show, being mentioned regularly in their blogs, getting interviewed on TV about the show and even getting shout-outs on DVDs that every major fan owns?
The shout-out on the DVD—wow, that was such a sweet surprise. This was all due to the supersized finale petition. Honestly, I was really skeptical that the petition would have made any difference with the network, but I guess it did!
The TV interview was funny—it happened because I just for the heck of it e-mailed our local tech TV show and told them that James and I ran fan sites for The Office. They e-mailed me right away saying they wanted to talk to us. What I didn’t know was they arranged for Angela Kinsey (who plays Angela on the show) to surprise us in the middle of the interview with a phone call! James and I completely flipped out.
The set visit was one of the most exciting days of my life. Just surreal. Having seen all these people on my TV every week, and then to be able to shake their hands and hang out with them in person like it was any ordinary day. Unreal. The whole process of shooting an episode was fascinating. The best part was hearing the writers laugh out loud at their own lines! We also got to talk to Greg Daniels for quite a bit, and he was genuinely interested in getting our feedback on the show. There was so much sensory overload, that by the end of day, I had the worst stomach ache. You know, missing lunch, being dehydrated, and meeting Steve Carell, all conspired against me.
What is OfficeTally – a news site, a discussion forum, a fan resource?
I would say that OT is primarily a news and archive site. While there is no formal discussion forum component to the site, there is a fair amount of discussion happening in the comments section of each post, as well as in the chat room. OT also showcases quite a bit of fan contributions, including original artwork and fan (videos). There is also a somewhat new section called Fan-Fare, where people can write in with their own reports of meeting the cast.
What inspired you to create the site?
I was just starting to get into The Office, and saw James’ beautifully designed Northern Attack site. I noticed he had created it with a program called WordPress, which I had never heard of before. Before I knew it, I was tinkering with WordPress myself. James set the bar pretty high with his hysterically funny and well-written commentaries; I wanted to contribute something to the fan-space on an equally high level. The blog format seemed well-suited to delivering news, so that’s what I started doing.
When did you realize the site had reached critical mass with other fans?
When I started getting emails from readers who said, “I’m addicted to your Web site. I visit more than 10 times a day!” When I collected over 100 comments on one post. (The last new episode, Cocktails, came in at over 600 comments.) I also think some kind of tide turned when readers started sending in their OWN tips on news stories. I love that, because it makes my job so much easier! Plus, people get a little “tipster” credit on the post, which is cool.
When you spend all your free time making a site like this one, do you ever wish you could just sit back and passively enjoy the show like all your site visitors?
Wow, what an interesting question. I know this is going to sound dorky, but running OT is such a big part of my life now, I can’t imagine watching the show without it! And yes, since this is a news site, I am required to read a lot of spoilery information about the show that I would otherwise ignore. I think I do a good job of cataloguing that information and then wiping it from my brain so that I can enjoy the episodes with a fresh perspective.
What do you make of the scope and passion of the show’s online following?
It is really incredible. Did you know that the very first airing of an Office episode was not on broadcast TV, but on myspace? So the online component of this show was important from the very beginning. Look at Jenna’s MySpace page—she’s approaching 100,000 friends! Check out OfficeTally’s links page for just a smattering of sites out there that are devoted to The Office; there are new ones being created every day. The online medium is so conducive for expressing one’s thoughts about the show, and I don’t mean just in words, but in pictures and videos as well. It is amazing to see all the artists who gravitate toward The Office.
What’s your prediction for A) tonight’s episode, and B) the remainder of this season?
My prediction for The Negotiation is that we will say goodbye to Roy. As for the rest of the season, I really don’t spend a lot of time analyzing where I think plot lines will go. Last season’s finale was such a stupendous surprise, that I don’t even want to TRY to guess how the writers are going to end this season.
They can’t top the Casino Night cliffhanger, can they? Should they try?
The show is supposed to be documenting real life, and I really do like to see the chips fall where they may. The Casino Night cliffhanger was a stupendous surprise and such a well-guarded secret, that I can’t believe how they will top it. I suppose there is always pressure to out-do the previous season, but that isn’t what real life is all about, right? After meeting with some of the writers during the set visit, I am in complete awe at what they do, and trust that they will continue to provide us with amazing entertainment. If that includes some sad or disappointing moments along the way, well, that’s real life, right? That is the beauty of it.
What’s your favorite Office moment, the one that stands out as transcendent or just embodies what you love about the show?
I didn’t instantly love the show when I first watched it—it was just too awkward and cringe-worthy. But my “Oprah moment,” when I finally “got” what the show was about, was during The Fire. Michael Scott says, “Rule number four, in business, image is everything. Andre Agassi.” Such a ridiculously misquoted, under-the-breath, blink-or-you’ll-miss-it kind of line, but it’s these small moments that are what makes The Office the gem that it is. You could watch an episode five times and pick up a new Andre Agassi moment every time. I was so tickled by that line, that I sent B.J. Novak (who wrote The Fire) a message about it on his myspace page. (That was my very first correspondence with anyone on The Office staff, in fact.) He wrote back, “You are the first to quote the Andre Agassi line! I came up with it on the spot and told it to Steve and was SOOO proud of it. I thought no one noticed, or remembered the Canon ads. Glad you did!”
If the show was canceled tomorrow, what would you do? What would become of OfficeTally?
Well, you know that the show will end eventually. I am guessing, maybe a five-year run? When that happens, it will be a sad, heartbreaking day. But whatever the case, OfficeTally will live on as an archive of one of the best TV shows ever in history. And I will finally get to take a long vacation.
- Jim or Dwight: Dwight. His respect for authority is a turn-on.
- Jam or Karim: However it happens, whenever it happens, 1,000% JAM.
- Dwangela or Jachael: Dwangela.
- Poor Richard’s or Chili’s: Chili’s.
- Pink the color or Pink the person: Pink the color. Although I really don’t own either.
- Stamford or Scranton: Scranton.
- The Conference Room or the Parking Lot of Doom: Conference Room. That bleak little room has provided us with a kiss between men, some wacky office parties, a horny Ben Franklin, and “Italian” slapped on Kevin’s head. Need I say more?
- Season 2 or Season 3: Season 3. It’s been a wild ride!
- Beet farmers or volunteer sheriff’s deputies: Beet farmers. I actually do love fresh beets!
- David Brent or Michael Scott: Michael Scott.
- Jazz Babies posters in the office or JamaicaJanSunPrincess posters in the warehouse: Jazz Babies posters. C’mon NBC Store, sell ‘em!
(All photos courtesy of OfficeTally.com.)