If we had a list of most underrated cold opens from The Office, the opening of “The Duel” would absolutely make the cut.
In the latest episode of the Office Ladies podcast, Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey chatted all about the Season 5 episode, which opens with the cast racing each other in front of a speed radar sign on the street.
Yes, “The Duel” is also the episode where Michael set out to tell Andy about Angela’s affair with Dwight, Andy and Dwight duel in the parking lot, and Andy pins Dwight to a fence with a Prius. But right now it’s cold open time.
The episode opens with Pam taking a call at her desk before explaining, “Angela made several 911 calls about cars going too fast in front of the building. So the police put up a radar gun. It’s actually caused a bit of a traffic hazard.”
In the middle of the work day we see Michael outside, running and screaming in the street. Why? He’s measuring his own speed by sprinting past the speed radar sign meant to record the speed of vehicles.
Michael runs 12 miles per hour only for Dwight to top him by running 13 miles per hour in front of everyone. Michael then runs 31 miles per hour, a “humanly impossible” speed (as Oscar puts it) that would have been impressive had Michael not been drafting a moving car.
“The Duel” gives viewers a quintessential Office cold open. It’s simple, it’s weird, it’s hilarious, and it’s not so outlandish that it couldn’t happen in real life. We know this last part because Fischer and Kinsey revealed that the scene was actually inspired by a real experience one of the writers had at his former workplace. Amazing.
The inspiration behind “The Duel” speedometer cold open
To get the inside scoop on the cold open, Fischer spoke with line producer Randy Cordray, who explained that the memorable scene was inspired by one of The Office writers’ life experiences. So naturally, Kinsey chatted with the writer.
“Yes, Aaron Shure, you guys, Aaron Shure’s like always coming up with these great cold opens. And I talked with him. He’s so hilarious to me, Jenna, because he’s like, ‘I guess my real life is just weird enough that it translates into a great cold open,'” Kinsey said. “Prior to working on The Office, Aaron had been working on The New Adventures of Old Christine. It was a show on CBS.”
“They filmed on the Warner Brothers lot and he said on the Warner Brothers lot there was this radar gun and he was walking back from lunch…with some of the other writers, and as he walked past the radar gun, it said zero,” Kinsey said. “So he was like, ‘Oh, yeah?’ So he set his lunch down, backed up, and he ran as fast as he could by it. Surprisingly, it clocked 20 miles per hour.”
“What? No!” Fischer said.
“That’s his memory. That is his memory,” Kinsey said, laughing. “He said other writers were like, ‘Wait, I want to try this.’ They backed up and they started running past it as well. And he said it was a very sweaty writer’s room that afternoon.”
“So [Shure] told this story when he came to the office, and they were like, ‘Oh, my gosh. Like, this is something Dwight and Michael would do,'” she said.
The challenges of shooting the hilarious cold open
Though Cordray told Fischer that the speed radar machine worked seamlessly and clocked people’s real running speeds and the real car speed, filming the cold open was still a bit of a challenge.
“…This was a really hard scene to shoot,” Fischer said. “Dean [Holland, episode director] told me that we had to shoot this in two different places. So anything that you see out the window of Michael running, we had to shoot that from Paul Lieberstein’s office, because that was the window that looked outside onto our parking lot and onto our street. But of course, everything else that was indoors we had to shoot inside Dunder Mifflin.”
“So he shot Pam, pulled back into Michael’s office, and then he whipped to a window that just had like a scrim behind it, because that’s what Michael’s office really has,” Fischer said. “Then he went up to Paul Lieberstein’s office. He did another whip, and then had Steve run by outside, and he did that thing where he cut in the whip and put it together.”
“That’s movie magic, guys,” Kinsey said.
Shooting and editing weren’t the only challenges this cold open presented. It was also 90 degrees that day and the men were running in suits.
“Jenna, do you notice how we’re all just like, we’re so cold, and we’re like, shivering. But truly, the guys are like sweating their butts off,” Kinsey said.
“Randy told me that not only was it over 90 degrees that day, but we had to schedule this scene to shoot right after lunch,” Fischer added.
“Oh, gross. So we all had these full bellies and like the sun was right directly over us,” Kinsey noted.
“Yeah. But he said luckily it only took a couple of hours to shoot,” Fischer said. Oh. ONLY a couple of hours! NBD, men!
The (IRL cold open) injury
Filming, editing, and running in the California heat may have been grueling, but no one suffered as a result of this cold open more than writer Ryan Koh.
Fischer explained that after they were done filming the cold open, the speed meter was moved onto the parking lot near the show’s catering area, where it remained for the entire week of production.
“Well, I guess it was too tempting to ignore,” she told Kinsey. “Randy said that one day during lunch, a bunch of the writers went down and they started sprinting past it.”
It was some wholesome Dunder Mifflin fun until writer Ryan Koh — who wrote “Business Ethics” and “Heavy Competition” — had an accident. Rather than tell the story herself, Fischer reached out to Koh to have him recall his memorable mishap.
“I was like a staff writer in Season 4 and still felt insecure about being there in Season 5, and this was my chance to prove to everyone that I was at least the fastest,” Koh, who ran track in high school and was sixth in his school’s division, recalled.
“I re-watched the cold open this morning, and so, like, both Steve and Rainn ran like 12 and 13 miles an hour,” he explained. “A couple of writers ran and they all got like 12 miles an hour. And then I was like, ‘Oh, I can beat that.'”
Koh was wearing his work attire — corduroy pants and Chuck Taylors — when he stepped up to the challenge that day. And let’s just say, it didn’t go well.
“I stood in the shower for like an hour just unwrapping my mummified arms and sort of yelling in pain.”
“I like, really laced up. I mean, they’re sort of loose-fitting Chucks, and that’s sort of like a slip-on shoe. But anyway, I laced them up really tight. And then I started running and I have this memory, like it was yesterday, of — I don’t know if you ever had this experience, where you’re running fast and then there’s no ground beneath your feet and you’re just sort of windmilling your feet with no ground underneath it. And then I very clearly remember seeing…like 17 or 18 miles an hour before I, like, sort of flew into the air, which, for reference is like getting thrown out of a golf cart. So it’s not too bad,” he said.
But before Koh knew it, his pants were shredded off his legs and he’d landed on his elbows and forearms. Ouch.
Koh explained that a medic came to wrap his wounds in gauze until he was “mummified,” but then he had to go straight to his cousin’s wedding.
“…I got on the plane, and then when I arrived in Portland I went into the drugstore and bought a ton of like nonstick gauze and stuff. And then I had seen that all the scabs had formed, like in the bandage,” Koh said. “So I stood in the shower for like an hour just unwrapping my mummified arms and sort of like yelling in pain.”
“You won! You got the fastest speed. So there’s that,” Kinsey said.
“I don’t think anyone would call me the winner, but I do believe — I will definitely vouch for the fact that I got the fastest speed,” Koh said.
After Koh’s fall, the set packed up the radar machine for good. And though he still has scars, at least he can have a good hearty laugh at the real cold open.
Be sure to listen to the full podcast to learn more behind-the-scenes stories from filming “The Duel.”
You can stream episodes of The Office on Peacock and follow along with the podcast every week on Earwolf, Apple Podcasts, or Stitcher.