In less than a year, Steve Carell will tape his last episode as the incorrigible and unflappable Michael Scott, leaving Dundler Mifflin without the world's worst boss and The Office minus its leading man.
But you wouldn't know that from talking to executive producer and co-star Paul Lieberstein.
"Oddly enough, it's been incredibly exciting and super positive," Lieberstein tells TVGuide.com. "There's a feeling in the writer's room and on set that anything is possible again. It feels like Season 2 when we were still figuring out the show."
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Since Carell announced his plan to leave The Office after the upcoming seventh season, speculation about how the series would forge ahead soared, with most of the chatter focused on who, if anyone, would be asked to fill the shoes of one of the most squirm-inducing characters on TV.
Despite working work under such scrutiny, Lieberstein seems unfazed, if not amused, by the daily stories about how everyone from original series creator Ricky Gervais to Harvey Keitel may step in as Dunder Mifflin's new leader.
"Ask me again in a year when he's actually gone, but right now we still have him and planning for what we're going to do when he's gone has been really fun," he says. "Some of [the names] are pretty funny. Any day, it feels like I have to entertain it for awhile because they all sound like they could be so interesting."
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Before talk can really begin about who will take over for Carell next year, the biggest question is how his character will exit. Michael's departure won't be addressed until much later in the season, but viewers will see growth for the character. "There's a number of scenarios in which he can exit, and we're kind of exploring them all. He's a guy who's been skating along thin ice at this company for a long time and could find himself fired," Lieberstein says. "He also is a guy who's been psychologically trapped at this company and, to free him up that way so he can leave on his own is pretty cool."
Michael won't be the only one experiencing problems at work. Lieberstein says Pam (Jenna Fischer) will find a way to branch outside of sales, while hubby Jim (John Krasinski) will go through an identity crisis of sorts.
"He's always been kind of a slacker. The only thing he ever wanted was Pam, but all of a sudden, he's a guy in his 30s now with a kid, and it's time for him to pursue his dreams," he says. "He never intended to spend his whole life in this office selling paper and if he doesn't act soon, he will."
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Above all, Lieberstein says he's most excited for this season's more self-contained episodes. This return to what he calls "classic Office" also includes — yes! — another Dundies ceremony and returning guest stars such as Melora Hardin and David Koechner.
The show is at its best, Lieberstein says, when there is "Just a simple, classic office problem and everything comes from Michael handling it very poorly."
The new season of The Office premieres Thursday at 9/8c on NBC.