Why Office Creator Greg Daniels Walked Away from Universal TV
No more quirky mockumentaries for Universal Television. Greg Daniels, the man behind NBC's The Office and Parks and Recreation, has severed ties with his longtime studio in a fit of pique: Apparently, he's upset that none of his projects over the last two years have made it to series, and for that he blames UTV.
Daniels' decision to leave after only one two-year stint actively developing new shows is more than a little unusual. Producer deals with studios come in two year increments, and most production companies tend to stay with their studios for more than just one cycle.
But a source close to Daniels tells us that the longtime comedy writer-producer decided not to renew his overall deal, which ended in April, over UTV's inability to sell any of his shows to series during his two year development effort. Daniels apparently felt his efforts were better spent focusing on selling to other networks without being beholden to a studio.
There are a variety of factors that might lead to a show not getting picked up by a network: the (in)competency of network executives, its current lineup and what it might pair best with, audience reaction, and most importantly, the actual quality of the script itself.
Daniels may want to consider the last one in particular: We've heard that three of the scripts Deedle Dee developed for the 2013-2014 season were so bad they didn't even make it to pilot, and the two that did tested horribly.
A source in development at ABC told us that the network chose not to shoot a pilot for one project, starring Brian Baumgartner, who played the pudgy accountant Kevin on The Office, and written by Parks and Recreation writer Harris Wittels, because none of Wittels' script drafts improved throughout the development process. (That, and the network's worry that audiences "don't really care about Kevin from The Office.")
A network executive at NBC sings a similar tune about the Daniels-produced scripts that went to pilot:
The shows didnt get picked up because they didnt have the usual "Greg Daniels quality." They were all fine, but none were that great. The Craig Robinson show wasn't bad but [Robert] Padnick's was a disaster. [See below for descriptions] Greg's executives are hard to work with, as well.
(This discernment comes from a network that cancelled every new comedy of its 2012-2013 season, and is only bringing back two mainstays: Parks and Recreation and Community, neither of which are ratings behemoths.)
When those two pilots failed to make it to series by May this year, Daniels chose to walk away from the studio that had been his home the last eight years. (Daniels' production company, Deedle Dee, has been under an exclusive overall deal with UTV since 2005, but he has only been actively developing new shows since 2011.)
He wrote and sold two scripts to sister network NBC in 2011, both of which had pilots shot: Friday Night Dinner, and an ill-fated Office spinoff, The Farm. Thanks to poor audience testing results, neither pilot was picked up to series at the network by newly installed Chairman of NBC Entertainment, Bob Greenblatt.
In 2012, Daniels chose to focus solely on executive producing, rather than writing. He set up the following five comedies at three networks (mind you, no small feat for a company only on its second year of actively developing new projects):
- A show starring Craig Robinson as a music teacher at an inner city high school (all Steve Harvey Show similarities purely coincidental!), written by Office producer Owen Ellickson
- A comedy about 20-somethings dating in Los Angeles, written by Office writer Robert Padnick
- A father and son comedy about worlds colliding, written by Parks and Rec writer Alan Yang
- The aformentioned Brian Baumgartner/Harris Wittels project, an office comedy set in an airport. (After a notably atrocious development process with Wittels on this project last fall resulted in a subpar script, UTV is currently having his latest endeavor supervised by an upper level writer with a better track record)
- A comedy about two brothers set in a college-town bar - the only project not penned by former Office or Parks and Rec writers
After a five month development process, only the Ellickson and Padnick scripts even made it to the pilot stage, and yet again, neither of his pilots advanced to series.
It's unclear why the quality of Daniels' work seems to be slipping. Prior to 2011, Daniels (who had previously co-created King of the Hill for 20th Television and FOX Broadcasting) took two very specific stabs at development with NBC Universal, and both shows—The Office and Parks and Recreation, which he co-created with Mike Schur—ended up on NBC.
When Universal Television split back into a separate studio from the NBC network in the fall of 2011, and writer/producers with deals at the studio were finally able to sell to networks outside of NBC, Daniels decided to ramp up his development slate by both writing and producing new projects. Deedle Dee continued to be funded by UTV under an exclusive overall production deal that covered his salary and producer fees, as well as three executives, two assistants, and an office (interestingly enough, located within the offices of The Office).
Though Daniels' deal was with UTV and not NBC, it's worth nothing that this isn't the first time NBC—currently the 5th place broadcast network, behind CBS, ABC, FOX, and Univision—has passed on projects from their homegrown talent. The network did not order a pilot for UTV's The Mindy Project, despite creator Mindy Kaling spending her entire television career on The Office (and also being under an overall deal similar to Daniels' with UTV). The project found a home—as well as a first and second season—on rival network FOX.
Update 8/16: We received the following email last night.
Dear anonymous Gawker writer,
I came across your recent blog post about Greg Daniels' shows last
pilot season. Its not the first time a shitty thing has been written
about me. If you put comedy into the world, people are going to like
it or hate it. I'm used to it. That's fine.
However, this section is wrong and borderline libel:
"(After a notably atrocious development process with Wittels on this
project last fall resulted in a subpar script, UTV is currently having
his latest endeavor supervised by an upper level writer with a better
Don't write about shit you have no idea about. Universal never once
mentioned me having a supervisor this pilot season. I love Ali, she is
a friend of mine, we have wanted to work together for awhile now, so I
asked her if she wanted to be a part of this new idea I had. She said
yes. Then I asked Uni if she could hop on board and they said yes.
They didn't hire her to chaperone me. That is absurdly untrue.
I know it's your "job" to talk shit all day (great work by the way.
really great stuff all around). But if you're going to try to fuck
with a dude's career, get the facts straight at least. Don't jump to
conclusions. And especially don't be anonymous. You must know that
there is no greater offense than anonymous attacks. It's the coward's
Now then, you may get back to jacking off in between sipping lattes
and reporting on wynona ryder's new dog or miley cyrus's tits or
whatever the shit you guys claim is journalism.
Know anything else? Drop us a line at email@example.com.
[Image via Getty]