Farewell party at 'The Office' after 9 years

An old index card reads: Original. Real. Poignant. Those were the first words Greg Daniels jotted down a decade ago as his guide in adapting the daft British TV series "The Office" for an American audience.

The ideas on the flimsy card stock proved enduring. They helped the unconventional workplace comedy about a humdrum band of paper company employees stand up to the radically shifting fortunes of a major network and a punch-to-the-gut exit of a big-name star.

But it's now time to put the paper away as "The Office" prepares to shut its doors for good on May 16. The shuttering wraps up a nine-year run where much of the time the show functioned like its elite predecessors "Cheers," "Friends" and "Seinfeld," as a pillar of NBC's vaunted Thursday night prime-time lineup.

PHOTOS: On the set of 'The Office'

Nearly canceled after a lackluster premiere in 2005, "The Office" rebounded and later grew into the network's highest-rated scripted series, frequently pulling in more than 9 million viewers for its season premieres. An early adopter of the mockumentary style, the show became famous for its fishbowl glimpse at the everyday-looking folks of Scranton, Pa. The show has been widely praised for its clever, understated and often heartwarming humor and has garnered more than 40 Emmy nominations — winning once for comedy series.

Its end signals a major turning point for the struggling network, which recently lost another tent pole comedy, "30 Rock." "The Office" is averaging a modest 3.6 million viewers this season, down 28% from last year, according to Nielsen. Nevertheless, it remains among NBC's highest-rated scripted series, and it's still a big moneymaker on the advertising front.

"It's very emotional — not to sound too Michael Scott-y," said Daniels, the series' showrunner once again after a stint at "Parks and Recreation," in a reference to the Steve Carell character. "But we're a family here."

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It's late January and Daniels is seated in his index card-covered office — in the building that serves as the exterior for Dunder Mifflin, the show's fictional paper supply company. He's noticeably preoccupied, making last-minute changes to a script before a table read for the season's 20th episode ("Paper Airplanes").

So when he is asked about the final episode, his face meets his right palm.

"I'm worried," says the 49-year-old writer-producer, whose credits include "King of the Hill." "I'm worried I'm overthinking it. I'm worried I'm not overthinking it — I'm working on two TV pilots simultaneously. Obviously, the goal is to have it feel meaningful and have a sense of closure for the whole series. That's what this whole season has been about."

Birth of 'The Office'

As with most good deals, the one for "The Office" began over coffee.

Rewind to summer 2001: That's when Ben Silverman, then an agent with the William Morris talent agency who was poised to start his own TV production company, met with Ricky Gervais at a London Starbucks to talk TV — specifically, his British comedy "The Office."

Silverman had come across the curious television show, about a group of pathetic employees at the fictional Wernham Hogg Paper Co., while vacationing across the pond.

"I was like, 'What the hell is this?'" he recalled. "Is it a comedy? Is it a reality show? It was genius." And he wanted in. After learning the international rights belonged to Gervais, the show's star and co-creator, and his partner Stephen Merchant, the hounding began — leading to the coffee talk.

"Ricky and I talked for 21/2 hours — about the show, about what we could do in America, and he educated me on what had informed his love of the show," said Silverman.

The show was born when Merchant enlisted Gervais to expand on a bit he had developed about office managers for a short film assignment. It would be titled "Seedy Boss" — and it would lay the foundation for the BBC Two series. Though it initially suffered low ratings, it would become one of the most successful British exports — with versions as far away as Chile and Israel.

PHOTOS: On the set of 'The Office'

But British adaptations and American broadcast networks didn't have the best score card at the time (e.g. "Coupling," "Men Behaving Badly"). When Gervais presented Silverman's proposal to Merchant, it was greeted with caution.