Think Star Trek enthusiasm for a sitcom about a misfit staff at a paper company in Scranton, Pa., and you have one quirky crowd. About 4,000 attendees (and a total of 10,000 visitors), 14 members of the cast and crew of the hit NBC TV show The Office, and hordes of local and national media outlets convened in the “Electric City” for a three-day party to celebrate all things Dunder Mifflin. And did we mention the event was organized by a couple of locals with no planning experience?
“It was a magical weekend,” says Michelle Dempsey, a local architect who conceived the idea of the convention after reading about people flocking to Preston, Idaho, because of the movie Napoleon Dynamite. “We kept hearing, ‘It was the best weekend of my life.’ We received letters from all over the country thanking us, including one from a mother of a girl with a brain tumor who said it was the greatest weekend ever for her daughter.”
The event took over the entire town (population: 70,000), earning support and sponsorship from the University of Scranton, Visit Pennsylvania, Mohegan Sun, the Lackawanna County (Pa.) Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Times-Shamrock Communications, among others. News coverage ranged from Scranton’s own Times-Tribune to the The New York Times, VH1 and Access Hollywood. Tim Holmes, part of the planning committee and director of community newspapers for Scranton-based Times-Shamrock Communications, says the grassroots effort is what made the event so successful. “Greg Daniels [the show’s executive producer] said if the cast put on the event, it never would have worked, but since the city did it, it was endearing.” But the event also came very close to remaining a pipe dream.
“There was a core group of about six of us who were so passionate, and that’s what made it happen,” Dempsey says. “For about nine months we were just selling smoke and mirrors. We were trying to keep it together with tape.”
With no early commitments from the cast, the group was having a hard time attracting sponsors and convincing NBC to take part. “We were getting slammed on [online] message boards,” says Holmes. “We truly never got a definite from any cast members until a month beforehand.” Holmes, Dempsey and crew boiled down their proposal to NBC that basically said, “Star Trekkers can have their convention, but Office fans are every bit as rabid and they should have their own.”
Eventually, the Scrantonites won the network’s support. “We tried to create a win-win-win situation,” says Holmes, mocking a phrase used on the show. “We wanted to create a convention that would be good for not only the show, but the actors and NBC, and we wanted a plan that would benefit the city.”
The three-day Office fest included cast Q&A sessions, a concert by the Scrantones (the band that plays the show’s theme song), a character look-alike contest and a street festival. “We were all volunteers running this thing, and it was a nightmare to handle,” says Holmes, who was the only one with any planning experience, having organized a few events for the Scranton Times. “The whole city, all the local businesses, came together. We leaned on more than 300 volunteers to help make it work.”
Despite coordinating events for the 10,000 people who showed up (some events were free for everyone, some were only available to attendees who could pay anywhere from $25 for an “intern pass” to $250 for a “corporate VIP pass”), the planning committee had to ensure the cast wasn’t bombarded by rabid fans.
“The actors could not have been more gracious or thankful,” Dempsey says. “They said that at one point during the convention, they looked around and had ‘a moment.’ They loved that it was a homegrown effort and it came off so perfectly in step with the show.”
That the show’s biggest stars, Steve Carell (Michael), Rainn Wilson (Dwight), Jenna Fischer (Pam) and John Krasinski (Jim), couldn’t attend due to scheduling conflicts might have been a plus, says Holmes. “It would have taken away from the rest of the ensemble,” he says.
As of press time, no official plans had been made for a 2008 Office Convention, but ideas were being discussed.
“I have such a deep respect for what planners do now,” says Dempsey, who had to hand over the honor of giving Greg Daniels, the co-creator of the show, a tour of Scranton to someone else because of her planner duties. “It doesn’t matter how tired you are and what you’re missing, just knowing that everything is going well is all that matters. I imagine that is what planners think.”
The stars repaid the tribute (from left): Angela Kinsey (the show’s Angela) greets fans; Brian Baumgartner (Kevin) sings with the Scrantones; Bobby Ray Shafer (Bob Vance) signs autographs.