Ben Silverman celebrating ‘The Office’ and living the dream in Aspen
TV producer will discuss ‘Office’ book Monday at private event
When TV producer Ben Silverman was eyeing publicity prospects for his rollicking new behind-the-scenes book about “The Office,” he prioritized an Aspen launch event along with more standard stops on the “Today” show and at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan.
Silverman, who moved with his family to Aspen last year during the pandemic, wanted to celebrate the book with the community he has embraced here.
“I think it’ll be a very local crowd,” Silverman, who will discuss and sign the book Monday afternoon at a private event at Catch Steak, said during a recent interview at the Dunder Mifflin-esque Aspen Times newsroom. “I wanted to talk about the book for a minute, celebrate the community, have a good time and answer any questions.”
Silverman, 51, is the Emmy-winning producer who brought “The Office” to the U.S. and helped oversee its beloved eight-year run at NBC. His new book, “Welcome to Dunder Mifflin: The Ultimate Oral History of ‘The Office,’” is co-authored with actor Brian Baumgartner, who played Kevin on the show.
Based on a 2020 podcast the pair produced, the oral history offers up fascinating behind the scenes bits, from the search to find an actor to play Michael Scott (Philip Seymour Hoffman was among the candidates) to the filming of Pam and Jim’s wedding, the finale, and the show’s staying power since its conclusion. Billie Eilish, the pop singer, serves as a spokesperson for Gen Z in a section about why they’ve so embraced “The Office” during its streaming era.
These days, Silverman has traded in his studio offices for remote work from here, where he can mix afternoon gondola laps into his workdays.
Silverman had visited Aspen regularly for many years, both in the summer for Aspen Institute programs and in the winter for skiing. In recent years, the visits got longer and longer and, when the pandemic hit in spring 2020, Silverman was in the first wave of the urban exodus and settled with his wife and two children in Aspen late that summer.
“It opened up the possibility to be able to work remotely,” he said. “And then subsequently, I’ve really have fallen in love with the community and with what’s been built by those before me.”
He said he was drawn here by the mountains and the outdoorsy lifestyle, of course, but also by Aspen’s public school system, which was welcoming to newcomers like his two elementary school-aged kids in 2020.
Like the true local he aspires to be, Silverman has mastered the art of handling a work call on the 18-minute Silver Queen Gondola ride up Aspen Mountain (he is working on getting a background banner for his company, Propagate Content, that he can pack in his ski jacket to hang behind him for Zoom calls from the gondola).
“I know every WiFi hotspot on the mountain and the gondola is the best 15-minute conference call location in the country,” Silverman said.
Aspen, he said, will remain home for as long as he can work remotely and travel for brief stints back to Los Angeles or to film locations.
“The only X factor for me will be how much time I need to be in the offices of my partners,” he said. “It’s about the studios and networks and streamers. How often do I have to be in their office versus on Zoom?”
Silverman grew up in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts and held onto his love for the mountains through most of his adult life, which had been spent in Los Angeles at the heart of the entertainment industry as he rose to co-chairman of NBC/Universal and then started his own company. Silverman’s mother is an opera singer and theater producer, his father a composer and stepmother a violinist, so he has always long been steeped in the high culture that defines Aspen’s off-slopes scene. He’s felt at home in Aspen.
“I’ve found a great creative burst while I’ve been here,” he said.
From his rented home on Buttermilk (and from those gondola calls), Silverman produced the “Untold” sports documentary series for Netflix and the much-anticipated upcoming “American Song Contest” — an adaptation of the Eurovision Song Contest — for NBC, set to premiere in February after the Olympics.
He also wrote the new book from here, a gratifying experience.
“Celebrating the show was really important to me,” he said.
There have been many other books about “The Office,” but he and Baumgartner wanted to tell the story from the inside for posterity.
The early chapters recount of how Silverman, who had brought “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” to the U.S. while working at the William Morris agency, spotted the U.K. version of “The Office” in London during a summer 2001 visit. He immediately found its creator, Ricky Gervais, and got to work on launching an American adaptation.
Getting it made was a long shot. Everybody he brought it to said “no,” as the book colorfully recounts. But Silverman pushed on, teamed with Greg Daniels and after a year and a half of pushing, landed the pilot at NBC.
“I knew,” he said of the show’s eventual success. “I had no doubt it was going to work.”
‘Welcome to Dunder Mifflin: The Ultimate Oral History of “The Office”’
Brian Baumgartner and Ben Silverman
444 pages, hardcover; $29.99
Custom House, 2021
Cleverly illustrated with behind-the-scenes photos and ephemera, character bios and sidebars, “Welcome to Dunder Mifflin” documents the making of the series, including sections on the 2007 writers’ strike, the making of “Diversity Day” and other “Office” classic episodes as well addressing mini-controversies like when Jim and Pam actually had their first kiss.
Looking back and talking to all the cast and crew and writers again for the book was a joy, Silverman said, but also made him regret that he didn’t stop to savor it while it was going.
“I was sad that I wasn’t present enough in my own life to realize that experience,” he said. “That bummed me out looking back, that all I was doing was looking forward to the next thing and ensuring its success and seeing what else I could do. That was a good lesson.”
It has also been mind-blowing, he said, to see the life of “The Office” since its 2013 finale, as it’s become a phenomenon for a new generation and comfort food to all on streaming, placing it in the pantheon of timeless TV shows.
“It’s been so joyful to watch its success after it aired,” he said. “It was a top-10 show and it was a beloved show, but it wasn’t a hit in the four-quadrants sense. Not compared to ‘American Idol,’ which was the real hit at the time.”
He’s proud to have had a hand in creating a ubiquitous piece of pop culture. The connection the show was making with people, Silverman said, started to hit him during its original run when it first began to air on airplanes. He would marvel at watching fellow passengers tune in.
“I just remember being on airplanes and seeing everybody watching on their seatbacks and hearing an entire plane full of people laughing out loud at the show,” he recalled. “It’s rare that you can enjoy your work like that.”
Now that he has landed in Aspen, Silverman is trying to slow down and enjoy it.
“I’m loving everyone I meet in Aspen,” he said. “It’s just such a wonderful, intellectual, curious and genuinely happy group of people who have chosen to be here.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the event Monday is private and not open to the public.
Anderson Ranch Arts Center’s new fall lecture series will run weekly from Oct. 20 through Dec. 6. The lineup consists of artists nationwide who will be spending one to three weeks at the ranch completing projects within their area of expertise and exploring new work in the studios.