In the ”Passion Package Room” in a Niagara Falls banquet hall — actually the Smoke House restaurant in Burbank, whose wood-paneled walls have been covered with black-and-white photos of the thundering falls — guests for the Halpert party (or ”Halpret,” as the sign endearingly misspells) rehearsal dinner are picking at the last bits of their teriyaki chicken as they turn their attention to the evening’s main event. It’s time for groom-to-be Jim (John Krasinski) to give his toast.
Even though Krasinski is just doing a quick run-through of his lines before cameras roll, the roomful of cast, crew, and extras lets out a genuine ”Awwwww” when the star utters these words for the first time: ”People told me it was crazy to wait that long for a date with a girl I worked with,” he says of bride-to-be Pam (Jenna Fischer). ”But I think even then, I knew I was waiting for my wife.”
Moments later, a genuine gasp sucks the air out of the room when Jim, in a burst of excessive enthusiasm, commits a major faux pas by blurting out something that leaves his family — especially his uptight grandma, ”Meemaw” — completely chagrined. Unfortunately, the man who comes to his rescue is Michael Scott (Steve Carell), Jim and Pam’s exceedingly unself-aware boss, who tries to smooth things over with a speech of his own. We won’t spoil all the awkward awesomeness, but suffice it to say that by the time Krasinski finally raises his glass ”to waiting,” most everyone on set is tearing up — from crying, laughing, or both at once. Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to witness a wedding, The Office-style.
Krasinski’s toast could just as easily be directed at the show’s fans. They’ve waited five long seasons for the adorable duo to make one of TV’s most touchingly functional romances official, and it finally happens in a special hour-long episode on Oct. 8 at 9 p.m. It’s a happy occasion, but one that in TV terms, at least, is also fraught with risky finality, since marrying off The Office‘s resident Ross and Rachel could potentially destroy the couple’s plot-generating will-they-won’t-they energy. Going ahead with the nuptials — with no end of the series in sight — is just one more way the little sitcom about Scranton’s rivetingly irregular Dunder Mifflin paper company has chosen to toss comedy conventions aside. ”It’s about keeping this relationship as real as we can instead of making it a television romance,” explains Krasinski. ”When you have two characters who are so perfect for each other, it’s a little weird for them to not get married. So you have to put that step in, whether it’s been done on television successfully before or not.” Adds exec producer Greg Daniels: ”We didn’t want to do the soap opera-y thing and cheapen it. Besides, our ratings keep going up, so I don’t think anyone minds them being together.”
Ratings have crept up as Jim and Pam have grown closer — from a there-but-for-the-grace-of-network-execs 5.4 million in its 2005 debut mini-season to a respectable 9.3 million viewers last year. There was a time, however, when Office producers didn’t know if the show would stay on the air long enough for Jim and Pam to share their first kiss, let alone marry. When NBC picked up the sitcom after that initial six-episode run, it was an act of love, not business. For the producers, earning the network’s show of faith would require playing the simmering romantic tension between the sweet-but-engaged secretary and the smirky salesman just right. Daniels and company were torn between having Jim and Pam take things slow — or capitalizing on the couple’s chemistry to juice viewer interest, and possibly ratings. When the network ordered only six episodes (instead of the usual 13) for season 2, ”we considered shooting two endings,” Fischer says. ”One where Jim and Pam kissed, and one where they didn’t. Greg decided not to shoot the alternate ending [with the kiss] because he thought it would be bad luck. He said they’d have to pick it up to see how it ends.”