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When you have any show that lasted as long as The Office did, there are bound to be tons of factoids about the filming which are not common knowledge. Such is the case with a two-line joke which was told early into the comedy's run, which ended up costing the production a whopping $60,000. And, it turns out that even some of those who starred on the long-time hit didn't realize this.
The Office Ladies podcast recently devoted some time to discussing the Season 3 episode, "A Benihana Christmas," which focuses on the annual Christmas party, but also sees Carol dump Michael after he (surprise, surprise) does something too dumb and thoughtless for her to forgive. When hosts (and former stars of The Office) Angela Kinsey and Jenna Fischer spoke to the episode's writer, Jen Celotta, they asked about the many karaoke performances in the show and got a surprise when Celotta revealed that another musical moment from the episode cost them that astounding amount of moolah:
I wrote a joke where Michael says, 'I got two tickets to paradise.' And he says, 'Pack your bags we leave day after tomorrow.' At the sound mix I found out from Kent [Zbornak, The Office producer] that was a $60,000 joke. I was like, 'It's a fine joke, but none of my jokes I've ever written have been $60,000 jokes.' But I remember not so long after that we had some of our music budget pulled away from us, and I can't help but think. I mean, I was sitting at the mix and had no idea that because we sang that song the song had to be cleared, and that joke was $60,000.
Wooo, boy! It sounds like Jen Celotta learned a quick and shocking lesson about music clearances and copyright with this episode, doesn't it? And, good thing, too. Who knows how many songs she might have written into episodes without any thought to how much they'd have to pay in order for the scene she'd written to go on as planned?
The moment in question takes place before Carol has left Michael heartbroken. He's bought two tickets so that they can do a couples trip to a Sandals resort, and is in the middle of a happy talking head interview when he details his plans for the "all-inclusive" trip. Michael is very excited, and this is when he borrows from Eddie Money's 1977 rock hit "Two Tickets To Paradise," and sings his play on the lyrics to that song. Unfortunately, Celotta had no idea that a two-line snippet of the song (which even had the lyrics changed a bit to fit the scene) would need to be approved so that The Office could use it without later having to worry about copyright infringement.
It might seem unlikely that a detail like this would go unmentioned in TV writer school or at least on the first day of the job, but most people probably don't automatically think to write lyrics into their scripts. Plus, clearing music for television and movies can be a tricky proposition. This is why it's not impossible watch a show or movie, see a scene that has a particular song in it, but once the Blu-ray comes out, for instance, that scene is now filled with a totally different song.
This scene from The Office would have been completely different had Michael not been able to sing "Two Tickets To Paradise" in his happy, goofy voice, so thank you to The Office gods who allowed for payment so the show could use the song, because it does seem like they got their money's worth. But, if Jen Celotta is correct in remembering that the show did, in fact, have some of its music budget rescinded after this incident, one can certainly see why. I don't think anyone can argue that $60,000 isn't a ton of money to pay, especially when you're not even using anywhere near a full song in the episode.