By Susana Gómez Báez
Graham Wagner spent a month watching television last spring.
Camped out in his living room with Netflix on, he sat through all eight seasons of the American sitcom, The Office, because it’s part of his job.
The 33-year-old former Ryerson student is one of 15 staff writers for The Office.
That means that about once a month, after pitching and editing scripts, Wagner sits in on table readings with the actors who play Dwight Schrute and Jim Halpert.
“We work with the actors quite a bit,” says Wagner. “The writer stays on set…and pitches jokes. You can tweak tone and how things are said.”
Generally, it takes about six weeks to produce each episode of The Office and each writer gets at least one episode per season, according to Wagner. His episode is currently in editing and is expected to air the last week of November or the first week of December.
Although he couldn’t reveal details about what his episode will be about, he spoke about the characters he has grown fond of.
“I got a real soft spot for Phyllis,” he says. “[She] is unique to The Office. When the show ends, we won’t get to see a character like that…softspoken but still capable of making people laugh… for a very long time.”
Wagner was in Ryerson’s radio and television arts program from 1999 to 2003, when in his final year, he stopped showing up to class and never graduated.
During his last school year, he and his friend went to a festival in Banff where their pitches won awards.
“We figured that was basically enough to make us big shots,” he says. “We thought it would go places and sort of stopped going to school.” The pitch never went anywhere, but Wagner never regretted his decision to drop out.
“I’ve never once been asked about my degree,” he says. “No one’s even asked if I went to school.”
Since then, he worked on several Canadian shows such as Men With Brooms and Hotbox. In 2010, pursuing a larger market, Wagner moved to Los Angeles and worked on the HBO cartoon The Life & Times of Tim.
“There is a lot of Canadian television and there can be a lot of fun projects,” he says. “But there are just fewer projects.” He finally got his big break last May, when Greg Daniels, one of The Office‘s creators, hired him.
“This is the first job that’s on other people’s radars,” he says. “I’ve got a lot of friends saying ‘congrats on your new career,’ and I am sort of like ‘I have been doing this for a decade.'”
“I didn’t do anything special except for not stop trying,” Wagner says. “The trick about it is that people will come and say ‘it does not happen right away, it does not happen right away.’ But just keep writing.”