Stephen Merchant admits test audiences hated ‘The Office’

Stephen Merchant says test audiences hated ‘The Office’ credit:Bang Showbiz
Stephen Merchant says test audiences hated ‘The Office’ credit:Bang Showbiz

Stephen Merchant says test audiences hated ‘The Office’.

The comic, 49, who co-created the iconic mockumentary sitcom with his old friend Ricky Gervais, 62, said it scored so low in screenings it only beat a showing of women’s lawn bowling.

He told ‘The Dish’ podcast: “I’m very proud of that (test screening result.)

“I don’t know why particularly women’s lawn bowls but that was the one that scored lower.

“That shows you what the test screenings mean.”

Stephen added the results led to BBC executives airing the show in the summer, which meant it had low ratings as everyone was on holiday or outdoors instead of watching TV – before it won a captive audience when it was repeated and showered with awards.

He said: “They stuck it on in summer when no one watched it on BBC, it got repeated and then we won a couple of trinkets, and we were off to the races.”

‘The Office’ ran for two six-episode series, with a pair of Christmas specials.

After its initial struggle with ratings, it has become one of the UK’s biggest comedy exports.

As well as being shown internationally on BBC Worldwide and channels such as BBC Prime, BBC America, and BBC Canada, it has been sold to broadcasters in more than 80 countries – including ABC1 in Australia, The Comedy Network in Canada, TVNZ in New Zealand, and the pan-Asian satellite channel Star World.

At the British Comedy Awards in 2001, the sitcom won Best New TV Comedy award and a year later Best TV Comedy.

In 2004, the series won the Golden Globe Award for Best Television series: Musical or Comedy – the first UK comedy in 25 years to be nominated for a Golden Globe, and the first to win one.

Stephen’s new BBC comedy ‘The Outlaws’ has had warm reviews, with one saying it was “both outrageously funny and craftily plotted”.

It features a bunch of down on their luck Bristol natives stuck on community service who get sucked into drug-dealing.

Now on its third series, its latest plot involves a body as Rani Rekowski (played by Rhianne Barreto), needs help dumping a corpse from her spurned ex Ben (Gamba Cole) and the gang.

It also features posh influencer Lady Gabby (Eleanor Tomlinson), and actors Richard E Grant and ‘Baby Reindeer’ star Jessica Gunning, with Stephen playing lawyer Greg.