By Michael Sadowski
SCRANTON, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of people, including some of the stars of "The Office," gave a rousing send-off to the television comedy show that ends this month in the city where it was set and whose image it changed forever.
When the Emmy-winning comedy started nearly a decade ago, the northeastern Pennsylvania city of Scranton was best known for its former mainstay industry of coal mining, but not anymore.
"The outward perception of the town is that we're a hard-scrabble coal town, but nobody here identifies with that," said Michele Dempsey, an architect and one of the organizers of The Office Wrap Party in the city of 76,000.
"That time is gone. 'The Office' has put Scranton on the map. It's helped make us cool."
More than a dozen members of the show's cast and crew took part in Saturday's event, which included a four-block parade through town where smiling, screaming fans mobbed cast members.
Actor Steve Carell, who played the bumbling office manager Michael Scott in the show, was a surprise guest at the cast party at a baseball stadium just outside of the city.
"Thank you, Scranton," Carell told the crowd. "This all is because of you."
Outside the Frank Regan Funeral Home, which was mentioned in an early episode of the show, painted tombstones marked the end of the show after an eight-year run. Across the street, actor Rainn Wilson, who plays Dwight Schrute, snapped a picture of a fan dressed as a real-life Dwight bobblehead doll.
The party marked the first time the cast had been together since the show wrapped production in March. The final episode is scheduled to air on NBC on May 16.
INSTANT RECOGNITION, CULTURAL CACHE
At the city's courthouse square about 10,000 people greeted guests and stars of the show including John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer. Cast members performed in an impromptu concert on the grandstand with Wilson singing "We Are the Champions," Fischer, Kate Flannery and Ellie Kemper belting out "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and Oscar Nunez and Brian Baumgartner performing "Roxanne."
"I've never seen anything like this," Kemper said after the parade. "I'm still soaking it in. It's like The Rolling Stones came here or something. I told someone it looked like the parade scene in 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off.'"
Saturday's party marked the unofficial end of the city's love affair with "The Office." Greg Daniels, producer and creator of the show, told fans that Scranton first came to mind as the location for the show 10 years ago when he was thinking about a workplace comedy dealing with the paper industry.
He noticed that many greeting cards were made in Scranton, making it a apt real-life model for the show.
"I'm very happy I did now," he added. "I think it was maybe the nostalgic feeling the city had."
"The Office," which was patterned on the original British TV show originated by comedian Ricky Gervais, has helped fuel the city's comeback efforts and made instant tourist attractions out of some of its bars and restaurants.
Steve Talerico, manager of Poor Richard's Pub, a favorite haunt of the employees in the show, said visitors from California and overseas have stopped in just because "The Office" workers do. The bar sells T-shirts, mugs and other show memorabilia.
"It's increased sales between 15 and 20 percent since we've started getting mentioned, especially in the summer," he said.
Austin Burke, president of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce, said the show hasn't prompted any businesses to move to the city but it gave it a foot in the door it wouldn't have had otherwise.
"After 'The Office' premiered, people knew us. That's the biggest thing the show has done, given us name recognition."
"It has this bit of cultural cachet that it didn't have before the show," said Scranton Times-Tribune newspaper reporter Josh McCauliffe, who was mentioned in a recent episode.
"I think a lot of people from here thought that the show would be cruel toward Scranton, as a lot of other TV shows or movies have been, but it really hasn't, at least not in an overt way."
The show has taken some slight swipes at the city, but consistently has treated it like a member of its extended family. On Saturday, Wilson and Krasinski credited fans in the city with helping keep the show on the air.
"When they have made jokes about the city, we've been in on them," Dempsey said. "And that's why this city loves it and always will."
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Eric Walsh)