Earlier this month, Netflix narrowly dodged a full-blown mutiny by renewing Friends, the celebrated NBC sitcom. And the sheer size of the deal—one-year, $100 million—for exclusive streaming rights to the show’s 10 seasons was an eye-opener. After all, treasured though it may be, Friends isn’t the most popular already-aired show available on Netflix.
That would be The Office.
“I believe it’s the No. 1 most-popular acquired show on Netflix… there are millions of streams of those episodes,” NBC chairman Robert Greenblatt told New York magazine in September. “I believe that Netflix has helped make The Office extraordinarily popular, and more popular than it was when it was on the network. And they pay us a lot of money for it. If we knew how popular it was going to be before they made the deal, we would have asked for more money from them!”
Greg Daniels’ workplace comedy—an adaptation of Ricky Gervais’ UK series of the same name—is set at a midsize paper-supply company in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Starring Steve Carell, John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson, and Jenna Fischer, it averaged about 8 million viewers while it was on the air, but with 130 million Netflix users worldwide (and 57 million stateside), the folks at Dunder-Mifflin have found a whole new generation of fans who’ve fallen for their snappy dialogue, heartfelt performances, and infectious goodwill.
And, though Netflix owns the exclusive streaming rights to all nine seasons of The Office through 2020, it stands to reason that they’ll have to shell out even more than $100 million a year to retain them. Because, according to two sources with knowledge of Netflix’s private viewership numbers, The Office is the most-watched television show on the streaming service, period. (Netflix would neither confirm nor deny this.)
In an interview for his new romantic-comedy film Song of Back and Neck, Paul Lieberstein, who not only played the show’s beleaguered HR rep Toby Flenderson but wrote 16 episodes of The Office, directed seven, and served as showrunner for Seasons 5-8, told The Daily Beast that the show’s streaming numbers on Netflix “are ridiculous.”
“I do know them,” he told me. “I have seen the statistics for their top 10 most-downloaded of everything—shows and movies. And what gets considered is a movie or a season of a show. And of the top ten most-downloaded, seven were different seasons of The Office. It’s crazy.”
“It’s hard to say what the phenomenon is of watching a comedy a second time,” he added, with a chuckle. “I’m not sure I understand it.”
Song of Back and Neck is now available on digital and on-demand. Our full interview with Paul Lieberstein will run on Thursday.