SCRANTON, Pa. - NBC's long-running "The Office" was a faux documentary about office life, and the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin Paper Co. didn't exist.
But try telling that to merchants, tourism officials and regular folks here in the real-world city of 76,000, for whom the Emmy-winning comedy - which ends its nine-season run next week - had a tangible impact.
Even though "The Office" was shot in California, it was set in Scranton, and every "Office" booze cruise on Lake Wallenpaupack, shopping excursion to the Steamtown mall and after-work party at Poor Richard's Pub meant real cash in real registers as the show's intensely loyal fans flocked to northeastern Pennsylvania to see where their favorite characters lived, worked and played.
"If people weren't talking about Scranton before this show aired," said Tracy Barone, executive director of the Lackawanna County Convention and Visitors Bureau, "they were talking about it afterward."
The show gave shout-outs and notoriety to dozens of local landmarks, from restaurants to radio stations.
Fans of the cult comedy from around the country still come to Cooper's Seafood House - a 65-year-old, family-run restaurant that boasts a lighthouse and full-size pirate ship - to see where boss Michael Scott and his "Office" underlings got their grub.
"They'll say, can you tell us where they sat and ate, what they ate, what kind of beer they drank, all kinds of questions," said waitress Laura Langan, who is always ready with the answers.
The University of Scranton earned a few mentions on the show, too, and the school's admissions staff uses "The Office" to woo prospective students.
While the Scranton references were fun, they also served a purpose for the show's writers and actors.
"'The Office' was all about being real … in the beginning, especially. So it helped to have a place to be thinking about that was very specific," said executive producer Greg Daniels.
Daniels and "Office" stars John Krasinski, Rainn Wilson and other cast and crew members visited Scranton last weekend to thank the city, and thousands of adoring fans turned out. NBC will air a segment on the "Wrap Party" as part of its May 16 prime-time tribute to "The Office" - another valuable bit of free publicity.
Krasinski said the city became a character in its own right.
"It's kind of the backbone of what we're doing," he said. "The whole thing of playing ordinary people comes from the idea that we're all living in Scranton."
Mayor Chris Doherty said the Emmy-winning series is a point of pride. "It never denigrated us; it was never mean," he said. "It did make people feel good about their city. The writers were good to us, and the people of Scranton were true fans, and true supporters of the show."