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How The Office Made That Crazy Post-Super Bowl Fire Drill Cold Open

Throughout its nine-season run on NBC, The Office quickly established itself as one of the most original and hilarious shows on television, and part of that was thanks to their signature cold opens. From Jim (John Krasinski) using Pavlov's methods to "train" his co-worker Dwight (Rainn Wilson) to Jim's pitch-perfect impersonation of Dwight to doomed conference room meetings to a really gross chain reaction, the cold opens often have nothing to do with the rest of the episode. When they do have any bearing on the episode, they tend to be pretty important — which is definitely true for the two-part season 5 episode "Stress Relief."

Tasked with creating an unforgettable cold open after earning the coveted post-Super Bowl slot, the creative team behind The Office realized they had a huge opportunity on their hands, and worked to create one of their largest-scale cold opens to date. Ultimately, the "Stress Relief" cold open became one of the most famous sequences in the history of The Office, and the story behind it is almost as fascinating as the cold open itself. 

In his new book The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s: An Oral History, Andy Greene spoke to the cast and crew to get the full story on "Stress Relief," from showrunner Greg Daniels' original idea to what it was like on set. Here's exactly how The Office made that crazy post-Super Bowl cold open happen.

The Office's biggest opportunity yet

So, why did NBC pick The Office as the winner of the 2009 post-Super Bowl slot? As executive Ben Silverman (who ran NBC at the time) recalled, there was talk of choosing The Apprentice, but he wanted to go in a different direction: "What asset do we have that can also grow, sustain, and help really drive the night? Everyone came around to the idea of it being The Office and said, 'Let's do this and let's figure out how we stunt it and make it big.'"

Producer Jen Celotta discussed The Office's game plan from there, saying, "We wanted people who didn't know about The Office and who were watching the Super Bowl to enjoy it. That caused us to think a little differently than we normally would about the show. We ended up throwing out a bunch of story ideas and we never did that before or since." Writer Halstead Sullivan agreed, saying, "We were tasked with making it a stand-alone episode, but making it something that fans who have been along for the ride all five seasons could enjoy, but also people who tuned into the show for the first time would be able to enjoy." Fellow writer Warren Lieberstein added, "It needed to be an electric opening because we were concerned about channel switching."

Finally, they figured out the story: Dwight, in an attempt to test the safety response time of everyone in the office, stages a fake fire, but ends up giving Stanley Hudson (Leslie David Baker) a massive heart attack while everyone completely panics. From there, they just had to shoot the cold open, and it turned out to be one of the most challenging shoots in The Office's history thus far.

The craziest shoot in The Office's history

Kate Flannery, who played Meredith Palmer, clearly remembers how crazy the shoot ultimately was: "That scene was a big deal. It was so fun, but I also knew that it was expensive, so it's like, 'Don't f*** this up.' It was definitely like a little nerve-wracking because you just didn't want to be the one that messed it up for everybody else."

Writer Anthony Farrell remembered just how big showrunner Greg Daniels wanted to go, saying, "Greg was in a place where he was like, 'We need it to be bigger and crazier.' So we just started adding all sorts of crazy shit happening with the mayhem and the melee, like them using the photocopier as a battering ram and cats falling out of the ceiling. A lot of it wound up getting shot." The shoot even required an animal trainer and wrangler to pull off the moment where a desperate Angela (Angela Kinsey) pulls a cat out of her filing cabinet and tries to give it to Oscar (Oscar Nunez) so he can save its life, after which Oscar and the cat both tumble from the ceiling.

Between Kevin (Brian Baumgartner) raiding the vending machine, Michael screaming for help out of the window, and ceilings full of cats, the shoot was complete mayhem; as director Randall Einhorn recalled, "That whole scene was pandemonium to shoot, but really fun." In the end, it was worth it — it earned sky-high ratings and ended up cementing The Office's legacy. As Silverman said, "That really propelled the show. It exposed it to a whole new audience that showed up and kept watching and grew."

You can relive both parts of "Stress Relief" on Netflix now, before the show moves to NBC's new service, Peacock.