Writer's reply turns into 'Office' obsession
SAN FRANCISCO -- On a whim, after watching an episode of "The Office" during its first season, Jennie Tan visited the writer's MySpace page just to let him know how much she enjoyed a particular line.
To her surprise, writer/co-star B.J. Novak, who plays intern-turned-corporate wunderkind Ryan, replied.
It was then the Palo Alto technical writer's interest in the show turned into an obsession known as www.officetally.com, which she launched in February 2006. She's gained worldwide attention for her blog and Web site devoted to all things "The Office," attracting more than 800,000 visitors a month. During the season premiere last Thursday, more than 140,000 people clicked on her site and about 800 posted comments.
The cast and crew credit Tan and other bloggers at two dozen or more fan sites with keeping the award-winning show afloat when it struggled in the ratings.
Wearing a snappy blue Office Tally T-shirt, Tan spent a recent Saturday in San Francisco with Angela Kinsey, who plays tightly wrapped Angela Martin.
The two, who act like college pals, did a live chat for officetally.com and Kinsey shot "Man on the Street" videos for NBC's "The Office" Web site.
"In the beginning, we were really trying to get the word out any way we could to get people to watch this show," Kinsey says. "We thought we were going to get canceled, so the more Internet savvy people like B.J. and Jenna Fischer, who plays Pam, started blogging."
Most of the actors blogged as their characters, but Kinsey didn't think that would work for the chilly Angela.
"Angela Martin wouldn't talk to strangers, especially strangers on the Internet, so I started blogging as myself," Kinsey says. "I started telling people about things that happen on the set, like in this season's premiere when I broke and started to laugh. All you see is my smile and the camera cuts away. People like to hear about those things."
"They just can't get enough of the behind-the-scenes stuff," Tan says. "I think that's when my site really started to take off was when the actors got involved."
While munching on dim sum for lunch at a tiny spot in Chinatown, Tan chats with Kinsey about "Office" lore, including the bloopers on the DVD.
"You have to do more. This last DVD had a minute less than the first season DVD," Tan says. "I timed it."
Her boyfriend of nine years, Sandy Skees, playfully rolls his eyes at the remark.
"I'm just a normal person, really," Tan says, catching herself and smiling. "I just have some time on my hands."
Well, not so much time these days, as she spends more than 40 hours a week keeping up with officetally.
"Sandy has to physically pull me away from the computer sometimes," says Tan, who works at Intuit. "I'm a geek both professionally and personally."
Kinsey says she and the other cast members have gotten just as caught up in Web sites as their fans.
"We were talking about dogs on set one day and pulled up a page on people who love labradoodles," Kinsey says. "I have to say I felt a little voyeuristic as I read about their lives and suddenly I knew all about them. Now I don't frequent that site all the time, but I feel like they are practically my friends."
On the set, the actors all sit at desks for the majority of the show. They use their computers to surf the Net and instant message each other during scenes.
Kinsey says not only has the Internet changed the way they spend their time on the set, it has certainly changed the way fans interact with celebrities.
"We were shooting at a mall and I was eating this big old doughnut and there was someone standing in the crowd with a video filming the whole thing," Kinsey says. "I don't mind most of the time but when you are trying to adjust your pantyhose and find it on YouTube, it's just not right."
And forget about autographs. Now, it's all about snapping a picture of your favorite actor with your camera phone.
Tan says she feels she's feeding a celebrity addiction by dishing out any bit of news that comes out about the show - and she does it all from her home office.
Her officetally.com operation center is a laptop sitting on a food tray on her bed. She curls up with her kitty Cleo next to her as she posts items.
"I'm tethered to my computer every waking minute," Tan says. "Every vacation we take, we have to make sure and stay where there's Internet service."
As for Skees, he says he's learned to live with the addiction, sort of.
"Sometimes I think that if she just had an affair, it would be better," he says with a smile. "I have to share her with everybody now."