Mayors' Conference: Scranton Pride

The visiting mayor of a Pennsylvanian town satirized in ‘The Office’ says the TV show has been good for it.

By GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
June 24, 2011 16:27
2 minute read.
The Jerusalem Post

The Office 311. (photo credit: Chris Haston/NBC Universal via Bloomberg)

If you were the mayor of a city that was routinely satirized by one of the most popular shows on television, you might justifiably be upset. But not John Doherty.

The mayor of Scranton thinks the publicity that the hugely successful comedy The Office has brought to his humdrum Pennsylvanian town, located midway between New York and Philadelphia, has been positive.

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“It’s been a very good thing for the city,” the friendly mayor said in Israel on Tuesday without a trace of resentment or irony in his voice. “We’ve embraced it.”

Doherty, who was in the country for an international conference of mayors organized by the government and the American Council on World Jewry, said that while the show wasn’t actually shot in Scranton (it’s filmed in a studio, far away), the production team often called to ask questions about places and request props.

“It depicts a reality,” he said. “Four years ago, we even held a conference about The Office in Scranton.”

Indeed, in 2006 locals welcomed thousands of visitors to the city to celebrate unintentionally hilarious boss Michael Scott and his band of disgruntled employees at the fictional Dunder Mifflin paper company. A symposium featuring members of the cast, writers, producers and fans drew hundreds of participants.

Of course, it could easily have been Utica or some other similar place.

Scranton was just a fill-in for Slough, the British locale where the original Office series took place. Creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant chose the industrial town north of London because of its bleakness, setting the tone for the franchise.

In one memorable scene, Gervais recites a poem written about Slough (rhymes with now) by Sir John Betjeman in the character of David Brent, the British inspiration for Scott.

“Come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough! It isn’t fit for humans now,” he reads aloud with contempt before adding his own Brentian commentary: “Right, I don’t think you solve town planning problems by dropping bombs all over the place, so he’s embarrassed himself there. Next!” Scranton and Slough have a sister city in Israel: Yehud. Like several other countries, Israel has its own version of The Office, or Hamisrad, as it is called in Hebrew, set in the town located east of Tel Aviv by Ben-Gurion Airport.

Yehud Mayor Yossi Ben-David said Thursday that he had never seen an episode of the Israeli Office, nor of its foreign equivalents. He said he was too busy doing his job to watch television and didn’t know what time it was broadcast, but added that he knew about the show and the fact that his city had been chosen as the setting for its Israeli remake.

“I saw [the film crew] when they came to shoot the series here,” he said.

Ben-David said his municipality supported the arts, and like Doherty, he welcomed publicity of his town.

Does he think Yehud is a dull place? “Absolutely not,” he said. “In recent years, it’s undergone great changes. On the one hand, it’s close to Tel Aviv, and on the other we’ve retained our rural atmosphere. It’s not a gray town.”


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