Fans of The Office were probably surprised when late in the final season they found themselves spending a great deal of time at Dwight’s farm with family members both previously established and new. If you were not the kind of TV fan that follows the behind-the-scenes news, “The Farm” would have felt like an episode from another series. That’s fitting, because in a way it was.
Given the popularity of The Office, and the fact it was ending, NBC was hoping to keep milking the show for all it was worth ratings wise. This led to the revitalization of a bygone TV practice in 2013: a backdoor pilot. Backdoor pilots are episodes of existing shows that are designed to lead us into a spinoff series. Sometimes these are successful, for example A Different World and Empty Nest. However, more often than not backdoor pilots fail. They don’t work as episodes of the existing show – often to a jarring degree – and that often leads to the potential spinoff falling on its face.
That definitely happened with The Farm, which was supposed to focus on Dwight Schrute and his family running their Aunt Shirley’s estate. Literally the will stipulates they have to run it together. Two city-dwelling Schrute siblings, Jeb and Fannie, were introduced to add conflict to the world of Dwight. Interestingly, Jeb was played by Thomas Middleditch, who would go on to star in shows like Silicon Valley and B Positive. Dwight was also given a new love interest, which will surely shock folks who shipped Dwight and Angela.
A lot of TV pilots are shaky, and The Farm is no different. When you add that to the fact they took a half hour from the final season of The Office to shoehorn in this pilot, it made things even more complicated. As an episode of The Office, “The Farm” was not well-received, and NBC passed on picking up The Farm as a show. One has to wonder what might have happened if they had just waited until after The Office finished its run to announce, and produce, the spinoff. Could The Farm have been successful under those circumstances? Would we have gotten years of Dwight Schrute remaining on our television? Would Thomas Middleditch have missed out on starring in Silicon Valley? We will never know, and that’s thanks to the perils of the backdoor pilot.