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'The Office' gets new life. Instead of selling paper — the characters sell papers

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The hit show "The Office" is getting new life in a new setting. Creators of the project say in this version, instead of selling paper, the characters in this mockumentary sitcom will sell papers. The show starts production this summer. The setting is, according to the producers, a dying historic Midwestern newsroom. I mean, ouch. So we called up a few small town newspapers for their thoughts on what the show should include. Art Cullen is editor and publisher of the Storm Lake Times Pilot in Iowa.

ART CULLEN: We're a locally owned hometown newspaper owned by two brothers. So we're just a rural community county seat newspaper.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This twice-weekly paper serves a small city of about 12,000 with an equally small newsroom. Cullen says about a dozen people work there.

CULLEN: Including me, my son, my brother, my wife, my sister-in-law (laughter), our dog, Peach. So it's pretty down-home. It's a busy little place. We're in a metal shed. We call it Storm Lake's nicest machine shed.

MARTIN: Cullen sees the comic potential outside the shed.

CULLEN: If they'd like to get some - what I think are funny storylines (laughter) that actually are ripped from real headlines, they should give me a call. You know, a guy getting picked up for drunk driving on a lawnmower - that's funny. That has all sorts of possibilities.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) I'm still thinking about the dog, Peach - a newshound, I assume. Papers like the Times Pilot survive with reader donations or even volunteers, like in the new sitcom. These are real-life struggles that Jessie Opoien would like to see given a new spin.

JESSIE OPOIEN: I guess my immediate reaction to the premise was cautious optimism.

MARTIN: Opoien covers state politics for a bigger newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

OPOIEN: If this case of this publisher looking for volunteer reporters gives people outside of the industry some insight into that and reminds them of the importance of local journalism, maybe that will be a helpful plot device.

INSKEEP: You know, Michel, I wonder if you've had the same experience. When you go to a town, if there's a good paper, the place just feels more accessible. It feels more alive. You feel the difference in a community.

MARTIN: You absolutely do. And, I mean, this - look. This is a real - it's supposed to be a sitcom, but it's not funny. Losing small newspapers, losing local journalism is a really serious crisis in this country. If this little show can make that better, I'm for it.

INSKEEP: All right. All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAY FERGUSON'S "THE OFFICE THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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