It’s been almost three years since we last saw the inside of Dunder Mifflin on The Office, and even longer since we’ve seen Steve Carell’s Michael Scott sitting backwards in chairs and showing off his Dundie Awards. More depressing than that, somewhat, is who almost got that prize gig instead of Carell, and his name rhymes with Whereamee Skivvin. It’s Jeremy Piven. Yeah, that Jeremy Piven.
The actor who turned Ari Gold into a household name – and his own name into birdcage lining – could have been one of the best paper salesmen on TV, as well as the guy who never cut Toby Flenderson any slack, but here’s the reason Jeremy Piven says he didn’t end up in the role.
They came to me initially for the American version of The Office. I was such a huge Ricky Gervais fan from the British version. I thought, ‘How could anyone possibly play that character better than he did?’ It was this perfect blend of nerdy cockiness in the way he navigated the space. So I turned it down.
If we’re being honest, it’s extremely hard to fault Piven for that unfortunate decision. (I mean, it’s unfortunate that he didn’t take a broadcast comedy that lasted nine seasons, though we have no real way of knowing how long The Office would have lasted with Piven as Michael Scott.) Before the U.S. version aired, I didn’t think anyone could possibly compare to the brilliant Ricky Gervais as David Brent, and while Steve Carell was a completely different kind of terrible boss, he still managed to nail the layered discomfort that made the British version such a treasure. I’m sure Piven also didn’t think that any U.S. remake of that show could possibly rank nearly as high in terms of pure comedy, but he was quite wrong. We were all quite wrong.
The Office debuted its short first season in March of 2005, while the first episode of Entourage aired on HBO in June of 2004. Is it possible that the producers got in touch with Piven that far in advance that he was able to then sign on to Entourage and have that premiere so many months ahead of The Office? Or was he possibly going to pull off being in two shows at once? And would that mean we’d have gotten an Entourage /The Office crossover movie, where Piven made every single dollar there was?
Over a decade after Piven turned down the chance to hang out with Pam and Jim all the time, the actor still has a place on the small screen, only this time on ITV’s period drama Mr. Selfridge. That’s a role that he told Cigar Aficionado he took after “about five minutes” of thinking on it, wanting to shoot for something different from his Entourage persona. It worked.
Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for Steve Carell to make the decision to come back to TV. And if B.J. Novak keeps writing jokes like these, we know what we want to see if and when Carell does.