Having grown up on Long Island and then going to college and eventually moving to upstate, New York, Scranton, Pennsylvania was never anything more than a checkpoint on the trip to and from L.I. In all the years of back-and-forthing it between Central New York and home, I never really gave much thought to the city until it became the home of the fictional Dunder-Mifflin branch we’ve all come to love. This is why it was kind of a thrill to get to see the place in person at the first ever Office convention.
The residents of Scranton, PA, as well as the students at the university welcomed the invasion of Office fans with open arms this weekend. One of the fans at the Writers Block event even commented on just how friendly everyone in the town is and I must agree. Its amazing what a difference a friendly attitude can make, especially when its pouring rain outside and you’re exhausted from walking all over the place.
I tend to try to look at the bright side of things and while I definitely agreed with what fellow writer Steve West said in his convention overview about the Office Olympics event and it being relatively lame, I think it should be noted that as far as I was told, the event was supposed to take place outside and had to be moved into the gymnasium due to the rain.
I have a feeling that set in the context of the street festival, the Olympics would’ve been more fun to watch, if only for a few moments while eating a slice of Alfredo’s pizza and checking out the live music. But as it was set up, fairly isolated from the rest of the convention, most of the fun being had was done so by the participants of the games. From a spectator’s perspective, the whole thing did come off as silly and did nothing to boost my enthusiasm for the series. A trivia contest would’ve been a lot more fun and interactive. The only genuinely exciting part about the Olympics event was getting to meet and shake hands with Scranton’s mayor, Chris Doherty. Like everyone else in Scranton, Mayor Doherty was very friendly and personable.
To address another one of Steve’s complaints: Yes, the wardrobe exhibit was in the middle of nowhere (especially if you were making your way to all of the events on foot), but it was situated at the Steamtown National Historic Site, which included a number of vintage trains, very unlike the old freight train Michael attempted to use as an escape in a recent episode. Even I, having absolutely zero interest in trains, was just as impressed to see these beautiful old train cars as I was to see Pam’s Casino-Night dress. So in that sense, it was worth the extra walking involved.
I would’ve liked to have spent more time exploring Scranton but because we were only there for two days and spent most of the time at an event, en route to an event or resting, general sight-seeing had to be put off for another time. The plus side to scattering the events throughout the downtown Scranton area was that it gave us an excuse to visit places we might have otherwise left off the list. The downside was of course that there was a lot of walking involved unless you had a car or good timing with catching a bus or trolley. I don't mind walking but the time it took to get from event to event did take time away from visiting other parts of the city. The only other negative aspect to spreading out the convention throughout the city was that it scattered the fans and thus, the level of enthusiasm for the events also felt scattered unless the event took place at one of the larger venues. Office fans en masse are a lot of fun.
In terms of how the city affects the series, we’ve all heard and seen the many references to the town in various Office episodes but having seen Scranton up close, I think the writers are definitely going to find new ways to incorporate the area and the notable sites into the show. From what was said at the Writers Block, most of the writers explored the city, taking pictures and notes and are already looking for ways to use what they’ve seen in upcoming episodes.
Though there were plenty of locals attending the events, whenever the event-host asked people to cheer if they were from out of town and cheer if they’re from the area, the out-of-towners always outnumbered the locals. That said, the Scranton natives all seemed extremely proud to have their city represented in such a popular show, and who can blame them?
While the show does take place in Scranton, Greg Daniels was sure to mention that at its heart, the series is about office-life more than anything else. He said this in response to a question at the Writers Block as to why the characters don’t talk like they’re from Scranton (in terms of accents and expressions). They chose the city because it fit the general demographic they were looking for. Daniels and many of the other writers did make mention of just how beautiful the area is, especially in comparison with the Van Nuys, CA location they use to shoot the series.
I’m going to agree with what Steve said about the convention in general. While there were some events that could’ve used better organization and in some cases a better location (the set up for the look-alike contest was weird and unless you were right up front or seated on the bleachers to the side of the stage, you couldn’t see anything), the city of Scranton really came through for the Office fans. I believe it was the level of enthusiasm on the part of the cast and crew of the show, added to the welcoming and accommodating nature of the city of Scranton that made this first convention worth attending. Hopefully this was just the first of many conventions for the series.
For pictures, videos and other coverage of the 2007 Office convention, CLICK HERE!