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'Office' visit

NBC comedy has made Scranton, Pa., a hip tourist destination
 
By RENATE WILDERMUTH, Special to the Times Union
First published: Sunday, October 7, 2007

Television viewers have been clamoring to spend more time at "The Office," ever since NBC made working hilarious. And that's also taking some of them to Scranton, Pa., the setting for the Emmy-award-winning comedy, which follows the exploits of employees in a struggling (and fictional) paper company called Dunder-Mifflin.

To meet the demands of the self-proclaimed Dunderheads clocking in for visits to the fictional home of the series, Scranton is planning an "Office" Convention from Oct. 26 to 28.

 
Al Roker will be broadcasting live with "The Today Show" from the University of Scranton to kick off the convention. Nine cast members from "The Office" will be in attendance including Angela Kinsey (Angela), Brian Baumgartner (Kevin), Mindy Kaling (Kelly) and Creed Bratton (Creed).

Getting there is like being part of a convoy of tractor-trailers. Truck traffic can be heavy on interstates 81 and 84, but unwrap the ribbons of pale expressway that surround the city, and downtown Scranton is utterly navigable. With a population of just 76,415, it has the feel of a big neighborhood rather than a city, with locally-owned businesses and eateries, where big chains have not yet made big inroads.

Viewers might be disappointed to learn there is no Hooters in Scranton, even though the boss of "The Office" lunched there in season two. The show is written and filmed in California, which explains the disconnect. With the show now in its fourth season, the writers are much more conscious of mining the former anthracite capital of the world for nuggets of lore and local flavor. References to Hooters and Chilis, for example, have been replaced by mentions of legitimate Scranton landmarks such as Cooper's Sea Food House, or Poor Richard's Pub.

Working in Scranton is not as tough as it used to be. The city built its reputation on iron ore, selling iron rails to the Erie Railroad in nearby New York in the late 1800s. Leaders in the industry, Seldon T. and George W. Scranton lent their last name to what was formerly known as Slocum Hollow. Things were going so well by 1886, it became known as the Electric City with the first commercially successful trolley system in the United States. (Period trolleys will be in use during the convention as shuttles.)

But by 1901, Scranton already started to lose industry as ore sources dwindled. Coal then became king, and it was an unforgiving despot. Miners, many of them Polish immigrants, worked under harsh and dangerous conditions. On "The Office," Dwight Schrute, played by Rainn Wilson, has Pennsylvania Dutch roots, but a name of Polish descent like that of actor John Krasinski would more likely be found in a Scranton phone book. On "The Office," Krasinski plays Jim Halpert, the cute boy next door (or rather in the next cubicle).

Scranton missed out on the post-World War II boom as oil and natural gas displaced coal as America's fossil fuel of choice. Then in 1959 the Knox Mine Disaster killed 12 miners and an entire job base, when workers were ordered to drill too close to the bed of the Susquehanna River in nearby Pittston. The river flooded the mines, and the coal industry never recovered in the Scranton area.

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