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The Truth About Catherine Tate On The Office

The Office might be one of the most beloved sitcoms of the last few decades, but that doesn't mean it didn't go through some serious growing pains as it neared the end of its nine-season run. Most notably, during the show's seventh season, Steve Carell left the show, leaving behind enormous shoes to fill. Carell had played the paper company's regional manager since the very beginning and, in his absence, The Office had two problems to solve: Who would replace him, and which character could become the new boss at Dunder Mifflin.

Plenty of potential candidates were brought in as possible replacements during the seventh season finale, including Will Arnett, Ray Romano, Jim Carrey, original Office star Ricky Gervais, and more, and though Will Ferrell briefly joined the cast as new boss Deangelo Vickers, the show still needed to find a long-term solution for Michael's absence. To fill the void Carell left behind, two actors were brought in to play two different Dunder Mifflin higher-ups — James Spader as Robert California and Catherine Tate as Nellie Bertram, both of whom also previously appeared as candidates — while Andy Bernard (Ed Helms) was made the office manager, which ended up causing some narrative problems.

In addition to Andy's bumbling performance as Dunder Mifflin's regional manager and Spader's comedic stumblings, Tate, who returned to The Office as a regular performer halfway through its eighth season, had trouble fitting in around the office. Despite her notable acting achievements in her native England, including a stint as popular Doctor Who companion Donna alongside David Tennant, Tate struggled on the show, according to a new oral history. Here's the truth about Catherine Tate's role on The Office.

Catherine Tate's talent was squandered on The Office

In Andy Greene's new book The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s: An Oral History, the writers and cast detail why they feel bad about Tate's — and Nellie's — lack of direction.

Greene wrote, "[Tate's] character of Nellie Bertram was introduced as a conniving schemer with basically no redeeming qualities. It didn't give her a lot of places to go comedically." Writer Brent Forrester agreed: "Poor Catherine Tate, she really got swallowed up by the size of the cast. I remember certainly feeling like, 'Oh my God. We have Catherine Tate in this ensemble!' and we're coming up with stories that we wanted to do for her, but ultimately in the last season there are so many characters." Jeff Blitz, who directed several episodes throughout the series, backed Forrester up: "The writers loved her, but they never quite figured out exactly what her role should be." Hairstylist Roxxi Dott had a much blunter take, saying, "I loved her to pieces, but she was f***ing miserable."

Actors Mark Proksch and Kate Flannery felt for Tate. As Proksch remembered, "She's just really funny, but I feel like they didn't quite know how to use her. They didn't know where and how to make that character a standout like they did with the other characters that they created." Flannery, who played Meredith Palmer from the beginning of the show, said, "I really liked Catherine, but I felt like she didn't get to be that funny on the show, which was kind of a bummer because she's really funny. But I mean — and I understood what they were doing with her — but I felt like, I wonder if it would have been a missed opportunity for her to be the boss."

Catherine Tate was frustrated during her time on The Office

Apparently, Tate felt some serious frustrations on set as well. Producer Steve Burgess remembered, "It was challenging for her, and for the writers, and I'm not sure they ever got the Nellie character the way they wanted it and the way Catherine wanted it."

Editor Claire Scanlon offered an inside look at Tate's exact feelings on the situation, saying, "She [Tate] thought they burned her character, like took her to crazy town too soon. And not everyone can work off-the-cuff like they want. It was just kind of like they threw her to the wolves and were like, 'Okay, go play now.' She was like, 'Well, let's give me some more help here. Who's my character? What am I doing?'"

Unfortunately for Tate, audiences and critics felt the same way. As Myles McNutt, who covered The Office for The AV Club, said, "They set her up as being this offensive woman who hates everybody, who nobody likes. How do you expect us to accept her as being part of this office? I remember watching that episode where they try to soften her and suggest all these sympathetic things about her. And I'm like, the deal was done. You can't do that retroactively if you've introduced somebody that aggressively."

It's a shame for both Tate and the overall show that her character turned out to be such a dud, but at least the writers realize, in the aftermath, that they should have used this talented actress to better effect. If you want to rewatch Nellie's run on The Office to see what went wrong, the show is currently streaming on Netflix before it moves to NBC's forthcoming streaming service, Peacock.