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Here Is the Story Behind Dwight's Famous Fire Drill

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By Francesca O'Hern

If you're like, well, pretty much everyone else, you've probably been spending a lot of time these days watching The Office. And as an avid fan (if you weren't already one before, you are now), you must love learning about the behind the scenes stories that led to some of your favorite moments from the series-- a lot of the time, they're as funny as the show itself. One of the most famous scenes is the one in which Dwight stages a fake fire, leading to Stanley's heart attack. Here is the story behind that celebrated cold open.

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Wait--What Happened Exactly?

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In case you don't remember, Dwight's goal in the opening scene for the episode "Stress Relief Part 1" was to alert the employees of Dunder Mifflin as to fire safety hazards and make sure they knew the proper emergency procedure. He heated the door handles and caused the smoke detector to go off, causing a ton of commotion in the office. While Michael was screaming for everyone to stay calm, the whole Dunder Mifflin Scranton branch went up in Pandemonium, and Stanley suffered a heart attack, just as Dwight announced that the fire wasn't real.

The Writers Needed to Do Something Big

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This episode followed the Super Bowl in 2009, so the team behind The Office knew they had to do something that would keep people's attention after that event. According to an article in Vulture which interviewed the people who made the episode, producer Greg Daniels told the writers' room, "Look, this is our opportunity to sort of re- pilot the show and introduce a whole new group of people to The Office. It’s very important to have a really grabby opening."

The Writers Fought the Network

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Because the episode aired right after the Superbowl, NBC wanted to do everything it could to keep non-regular Office viewers from switching the channel. Writer Lee Eisenberg remembered, "The network was insistent that we get celebrities, and that was really complicated. I remember wanting Matt Damon or Ben Affleck to be on it. I was like, 'Okay, we’ll get somebody who has a blue-collar feel to be running a warehouse or they’re gonna go up against Michael somehow.'" Ultimately, producer Greg Daniels decided that it would not fit into the "reality of the show." In the end, they compromised, and had Pam, Andy, and Jim watch a fictional movie with Jack Black in it.

The Cold Open Was Expensive to Shoot

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In the scene, Angela produces her cat, Bandit, from a drawer near her desk and throws him up to the ceiling. A moment later, he comes crashing down through the ceiling. This short (but hilarious) sequence was quite expensive: In order to keep from injuring the cat, the production team purchased an exact stuffed model of the cat. This cost them $12,000, and they didn't even end up using it. In the end, they hired two cat handlers, one to catch Bandit, and another to throw an identical cat down, and one cat thrower, for whom they had to provide an outfit and wig to match Angela's hair and wardrobe exactly.

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