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Talking With 'Office' Star B.J. Novak

When NBC announced a few years ago that it would create an American version of the hit British TV show The Office, it sounded like the typically desperate move of a studio executive out of ideas. But today, the stateside show is one of the most popular and critically beloved programs on television.

B.J. Novak plays Ryan Howard, the intern-turned-executive who is trying to drag the Dunder Mifflin Paper Co. into the new millennium with the launch of a Web site, Dunder Mifflin Infinity. Novak is also a writer and producer for The Office, which airs its season finale Thursday night on NBC.

Novak notes the long history of combination writer/actors, from Saturday Night Live to Monty Python. In the case of The Office, he says, the dual roles evolved organically. Early in the show, Novak says, The Office leaned on a mockumentary style — not that there weren't also jokes. "We also thought at that point that we could live and breathe as a show partly by simply showing, without commenting on, what it's like to work in an office."

As the show progressed, Novak says, it was important to delve even deeper into that experience. The Office uses a single camera, a format that demands extended attention from the audience. "We don't want to force the pace," he says. "We're really trying to make it feel real and transport people to experiences they've actually had. Sometimes you'll laugh five times in 10 seconds, and then you'll just watch a scene unfold for a minute."

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