Outside the Beverly Hilton on Sunday, comedian Ricky Gervais and the entourage from the British show The Office walked pretty much straight into the Golden Globes ceremony, largely unrecognized and ignored by the nation's entertainment media.
Inside, however, it was another story.
The show, a come-from-nowhere hit in Britain that airs in the United States on BBC America, has made Gervais a top star and inspired a U.S. remake tentatively scheduled for this summer on NBC. But few were prepared for what happened Sunday when The Office won best comedy series and Gervais took best comedy actor honors, the first time a foreign show has won in those categories.
Even the Hollywood Foreign Press Association apparently was taken off-guard. The table for The Office was on the ballroom's second tier, so far from the cameras that it proved difficult to even get a reaction shot of Gervais each time his name was announced. After the show, Hollywood players from Without a Trace, Will and Grace and Sex and the City made the trek to the hinterlands to pay homage to Gervais, co-creator Stephen Merchant and the rest of their ensemble.
Acclaimed by media critics and a small but enthusiastic group of fans, The Office, a comedy filmed in mockumentary style about a clueless boss and his resigned but resentful employees, has grown slowly in popularity by word-of-mouth. Its appreciators like the cringe factor they find among the laughs in the painfully realistic satire.
Slow-paced, even for Britain, it won four British Emmys and both Golden Globes it was nominated for, and it was the fastest-selling DVD in Britain. Creator Gervais thinks the show succeeded because the product had top priority and found its audience slowly.
The biggest challenge of the NBC show will be casting an equivalent to Gervais, whose character was built out of his mannerisms, speech patterns and experience as a middle manager for radio and television. Fans of The Office are already fretting about how NBC will translate it.
"It will be terrible," says Ryan K. Johnson, an Internet reviewer of British shows. "It's a cult show about a man who's so clueless, it's like watching a car wreck. Where else do you see a show that makes you cringe and laugh at the same time? Is it ready to be on a network with 17-million viewers?"
Despite its popularity with fans on both sides of the Atlantic, the show ended in England with two six-episode seasons and a Christmas special, and the cast is moving on to other projects.
At the Golden Globes, however, it was showered with adoration. Overall, the Britons reacted to the fawning not with the scripted politeness of Hollywood stars but the disarming, awkward directness of their characters.
"I'm more surprised than I've ever been in my life," said Gervais, shifting his eyes in the manner of David Brent, the middle manager boss he portrays.
His second acceptance speech brought laughs when he called the second trophy necessary to make a pair of "bookends," and he vowed to stay onstage until the teleprompter told him to wrap it up. And he did.
Looking dazed, Merchant stood tall and silent, taking it all in through rainbow-framed glasses as the ballroom emptied. "I'm just watching Nicolas Cage and Robin Williams and Clint Eastwood and Bill Murray leaving the room. I'll probably never get that chance again. So why not suck it in?," he said.
"If you're living in L.A., these are your peers, people you work with. But for us, they're like icons. They're not real, not three-dimensional. They mean a lot because they've given (us) so much over the years."
The mutual admiration between the Britons and Hollywood reflects the way each has inspired the other, said BBC America chief executive Paul Lee. "The Office is an influential show. And when you talk to Ricky, his inspiration comes from Larry Sanders and Spinal Tap. It's a great example of how great comedy bounces across the Atlantic."