No matter how much web content I watch, I manage to find time to keep up with certain traditional TV shows — sometimes even on an actual TV. But last night, my break from the online video world was interrupted by NBC’s The Office (warning: SPOILERS AHEAD). The hour-long episode Niagra started with a cunning yet subtle reference to the Three Wolf Moon meme (the writers were dead-on on that one — Dwight is definitely the kind of guy who would wear that shirt). But then the show’s much promoted “happy ending” for its ongoing love story between Jim and Pam climaxed with…yep, a tribute to the viral hit JK Wedding Dance.
JK Wedding Dance has done astonishingly well even for a viral hit, having reached (at last check) over 30 million views since July and possibly helping to bring down the music video as we know it. Your mom probably sent it to you a month after it came out, that’s how popular it was. So it’s a reference easily gotten by the online-savvy. The question is, what percentage of the viewing audience was that? As the Futon Critic pointed out this week, if you’re reading this, you are not the average TV viewer.
Last night’s Office was the second-most watched program for those aged 25-54, with a total viewership of 9.1 million. But how much overlap is there between those 9.1 million who watched last night and the 30 million who have seen JK Wedding Dance since its release? Because looking at some of the comments on NBC’s site, there was definitely some confusion even amongst viewers who know how to use their computers. As user Morning Dump wrote at 10:35 AM PT, “Don’t know what video it was but that stupid dance was the low point of the show…I’m guessing all the 15-year-old girls who watch the show would know what it is.”
And how did The Office writers prepare viewers who didn’t know what was going on? Well, not really at all. This is hardly the first time the show has invoked an online phenomenon — in fact, this season opened with a lengthy “parkour” demonstration. However, the “Office Parkour” scene was anchored by Jim’s calm explanation of what the real “parkour” is — including some shots of real parkour, as hosted on YouTube.
But the only connection the show last night drew between the original viral and its own spin on it was Steve Carell’s bubbly “Did you see this? It was on YouTube!” exclamation to Pam, briefly uttered before he took his own turn down the aisle. The official NBC recap only says “Michael and Jim’s brothers unleash one more surprise on the couple, putting in a Chris Brown CD and recreating the sensational YouTube wedding video, as all the guests dance down the aisle.” There are no links between NBC.com and YouTube. The initials JK are not mentioned once.
Sure, all you have to do is Google “wedding dance” and you’ll arrive right at the original video. And the episode has triggered a major viewing spike for it as well. But what’s troubling is this: The Kheinzs have taken steps to combat the extreme irony of celebrating their marriage with a hit single performed by someone who confessed to beating his (now ex-) girlfriend — a recently added YouTube annotation encourages viewers to visit jkweddingdance.com, where they can make a donation to the Sheila Wellstone Institute for domestic violence (instead of, one presumes, contributing to Chris Brown’s royalties). However, The Office made no similar gesture, and licensing a song from a major music label for use on TV can cost thousands of dollars.
In the end, Niagra featured a lot of sweet romantic moments and a ton of classic Office wincing. Usually, though, when people wince during The Office, it’s because of something offensive Michael Scott just did. Not because of the show itself.