In the fourth and final part of our goodbye to NBC's The Office (which airs its finale Thursday at 9/8c), the cast and producers talk about the decision to end the series after nine seasons, the return of original showrunner Greg Daniels, breaking down the fourth wall with the documentary crew and the show's legacy.
TVGuide.com spoke to stars Rainn Wilson (Dwight Schrute), Jenna Fischer (Pam Beesly-Halpert), Angela Kinsey (Angela Martin), Oscar Nunez (Oscar Martinez), Kate Flannery (Meredith Palmer), Ellie Kemper (Erin Hannon), Jake Lacy (Pete Campbell), producer and director Ken Kwapis, and executive producers Greg Daniels, Ben Silverman and Mike Schur about The Office's long, strange trip from British underground hit to America's favorite workplace. This is the fourth in a four-part series. Check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
The Office was faced with many burning questions going into its ninth season.
Rainn Wilson: The producers just weren't sure what to do. Should they continue it with the same cast? Should they have a new generation? Should the office move and have younger actors be the leads? They just didn't know what to do. We kind of came to them and we were like, "Look, we need to end this show strong. Let's have one last season. Let's announce it really ahead of time. Let's go out strong. Let's have a strong finale that we can really be proud of, and not trickle off."
Jenna Fischer: The last thing we wanted was to be in the middle of a season and then find out, oh, you're not coming back next year. You have four episodes to wrap up your entire season.
Soon after, original showrunner Greg Daniels announced that he was returning full-time after a four-year absence.
Angela Kinsey: When Greg said he was coming back, I think I shrieked like a little girl. Because, you know, here's the person who started it all, and his love and passion for the show and the characters, his understanding of their relationships — nothing else compares to that.
Ben Silverman: Greg's involvement was essential to end it in the right way. He really honored the show this season.
Mike Schur: He worked so hard in building that show into what it is that it's hard to imagine it being in anyone else's hands at the end.
Greg Daniels: Of all the experiences I've had in the entertainment industry, The Office was, I think, the most fun, so I felt like I was at the state fair and somebody said, "Hey, you have just enough time to have one more ride. What would you like to ride?" "I want to go on The Office ride."
However, Daniels wasn't sure if he was ready to close up Dunder Mifflin for good.
Daniels: I met with the actors and we had this idea of, let's do one great final season and I wasn't 100 percent on it. I was entertaining another idea of, well, maybe I'll just bring all new actors in to keep it going. But I think the experience of doing the "Goodbye Michael" arc was very satisfying. I felt like it would be better to have an artistic ending to all of these people's stories than to just have them end with no ending and then try and start a new beginning with other people.
Kinsey: If we lose people, at what point is it still the show without this family of people? ... At some point, is it even The Office that we set out to do?
Schur: The Office will have done 200 episodes, and I think at a certain point, no matter how talented the cast and the writing staff is, there just aren't that many more stories to tell.
Silverman: I think by saying, "This is the final season" instead of what we would have done, which is "it may be the final season" — it added some creative momentum to the show.
Two new cast members, Jake Lacy and Clark Duke, joined the show.
Ken Kwapis: I remember when I saw the first episode of the season, "New Guys," that Greg wrote and directed, I was so thrilled. Talk about a series getting a second wind. It just felt really strong.
Daniels: They had a good use of being, like, this reminder, or sort of this prod to Jim and Dwight that maybe it's time for them to move on in their lives. It's so much fun to see Clark Duke sitting at the same desk clump as Dwight and Pam, and you realize that he's just born and bred for this kind of a show. You could have easily had a new show come around for him.
Jake Lacy: It's funny. At every turn, for 90 percent of the people there, it was, "This is the last...," and then insert any situation. For me it was like, "Oh, this is the first." Like, wow, this is my first Office Christmas. Cool. As an actor, it was such a bummer to be like, oh, this is one year. Because after doing it for a year and getting to work with these guys ... what a gift it would be to think, "I have another year. I get to do this again."
In August 2012, it was publicly announced that The Office was ending.
Lacy: [Greg Daniels] came on to the bus, I think, Monday or Tuesday when we were shooting and said, "I've spoken to different people and I've just written up a press release, and I want to tell you before you read it on Deadline or your agents or managers call and say 'I just saw this' or whatever." Even when he said it then, people were saddened although not shocked. But there was still a sense of, like, "OK, well then, let's make the next 24 episodes or however many we have left a blast."
Kinsey: The bus just got quiet. And it just all really became real. A few of us teared up, and you felt the weight of what this season would be in that moment. The stakes were higher.
Kate Flannery: It's bittersweet. I don't ever want to graduate, but you have to graduate.
A big story line the final season was creating new tension between Jim and Pam.
Fischer: I felt like it was overdue. I feel like this should have started for them last year, but we had the issue of Steve leaving and a lot of stories about who was going to be the new manager. There just wasn't a good place to have this deep of a story line last season.
Daniels: I felt like they started to have less to do in Season 8, so when it was clear that we were going to have a last season, part of the fun of it was for John and Jenna and I to say, "OK, we've been really good. We haven't put any drama in their relationship." We always thought it was a little bit of a contradiction that the show was pretty realistic and we made a great effort to have real stories, but their relationship was kind of a romantic fantasy relationship.
Fischer: I think I said something in a very early interview that has people very scared, which was that I always thought that maybe the real ending of Jim and Pam is that they aren't meant to be together. I think now that they've had kids, they need to do everything they can to stay together.
Jim and Pam's marital woes took a surprising turn when Pam, crying after a heated phone argument with Jim, was comforted by Brian, the boom operator from the fictional documentary crew.
Daniels: I felt like if we're going to break the fourth wall, let's have a reason to do it. Let's not just do it for the sake of doing it, so I wanted to make sure it had a bearing on Jim and Pam's story line. ... The idea was: Who would know her better than Jim? There's one person who might — the person who was filming her and kind of falling in love with her behind the camera for years.
Fischer: A lot of people thought that that was a romance. That Pam was going to have an affair. We said, "Pam would never have an affair." But the introduction of the boom operator was more to remind viewers that this is a documentary and then to start introducing the idea that the documentary is going to air and that Brian would be a good source of information.
Daniels: When she went to New York [in Season 5], we had a whole possible story line worked out where she was going to go to a party that Rich Sommer's character was throwing. He was going to hit on her at this party, and she was going to leave upset and get on the subway to go back to her apartment. On the subway late at night, she was going to get hassled by a strange person and, as this is happening, suddenly the boom gets thrown down and this guy just appears from behind the camera and saves her. We were going to reveal that this was Brian the boom guy. It was only Season 5 and I felt like, "Uh-oh, it's too weird. I got to save that for later."
The second half of the final season turned the spotlight on the employees of Dunder Mifflin in the weeks leading up to the airing of the nine-part documentary, The Office: An American Workplace.
Ellie Kemper: I think it's really cool that, in the world of the show, it's acknowledged that this documentary is seeing the light of the day. I remember an Onion article from a few years ago that was like, "Office documentary crew still making that documentary." [Laughs]
Daniels: Sometimes people would pitch ideas, and it would have really drawn too much attention to the documentary. I was like, "I don't know how you come back from that," because you don't want to be constantly imagining who's behind the camera in every scene. That would be difficult to continue watching the show. I would always put off those ideas and say, "Let's save that for the last season."
Kwapis: There is an entire set of offstage characters who have been there for nine seasons, but we've never seen them. In some ways, they've established relationships with our characters that we don't know about. To me, it was such a fascinating way to suddenly add another dimension to the series.
Daniels: There are only a few shows that could ever do this, so it felt like it was worth doing.
Fischer: The final episode of The Office actually jumps ahead in time and it picks up after the documentary has aired and you get to see how all of us are dealing with the consequences of that.
In March 2013, filming on the series finale commenced.
Daniels: I've had a last episode in mind since Season 3, but part of the fun of the show was that it alters as you're doing it because the cast have their opinions and other writers chime in and good ideas come from many places.
Kemper: All of the cast members were asked for their input and our ideas about how we wanted to send off our characters. The writers really took that into account.
Kinsey: It was the second-to-last day of filming, and I was scheduled to do my very last talking head ever ... and I just started crying. And Greg Daniels was on set and he said, "What's going on? What's going on?" And I said, "This is my last talking head ever." He was right there in that emotion with me and he looked at me and he goes, "No, it's not. I'll write you another one right now." And he ran out of the stage. There's a writer's office right next to the stage, and he came back and he had another talking head for me.
Kemper: Our last two weeks of shooting, it was more locations and longer hours and more days of shooting than we've ever had. That kind of made it even more exciting, and I think that took away from any potential sadness because everyone was adrenalized.
Flannery: I think it was just the excitement of having this sense of dotting every I and crossing every T. Most people don't get that. Most shows don't get that, and we got that, and we knew it, and we appreciated it in the moment.
Daniels: We had a wrap party scheduled and it was supposed to start at like 8 p.m., and we were still shooting at 8 p.m.. We were supposed to stop at 5 p.m., so it was kind of like nobody really wanted to let go of the actual shooting. We missed half our own wrap party.
Kinsey: I think it's a wonderful goodbye to our fans. I think that there's going to be laughter and tears. It really wrapped up a lot of story lines in a great way.
Despite repeated denials that Steve Carell would reprise his role as Michael Scott in the finale, rumors still persist.
Daniels: We talked about it and he really loved his exit. It's hard to be mad when he's complimenting his last episode so hard. [Laughs] But I think he didn't want to overshadow all of the people.
Silverman: I would just say it's not over till it's over.
The Office's TV run may be over, but those involved haven't closed the book on other future projects.
Kemper: I personally think the show could have gone on 20 more years. I think the characters and the world that the writers created continues to be rich.
Silverman: I just wish we had done some spin-offs. I think it's not over yet, so that may happen. ... At some point, there could be a movie or another character that was on The Office that we build a new show around.
Oscar Nunez: They're doing Arrested Development. But boy, a movie about an office? I don't know. If they find a way to make it funny somehow, yes, of course.
Flannery: These are the greatest bunch of people I've ever worked with, so I can't imagine anything else that we did together wouldn't be as interesting and heartfelt and just soulful. This show has had a soul.
The cultural impact of The Office still lives on.
Schur: I think it's pretty fair to say that if there's no Office, there's no Modern Family. And there's certainly no Parks and Rec. There's no a lot of shows. That kind of Spinal Tap-like mockumentary thing hadn't really been done on mainstream TV and it really changed single-camera comedy a lot. It made it into something that wasn't only artistically interesting, but also commercially viable. ... At the very least, it will be seen as a trailblazing show.
Fischer: I know a lot of families watched The Office together, so I hope that it will be one of those shows that families always have as a part of their history together.
Kemper: I hope that I get to work on something this good, but I don't know that I will.
(Additional reporting by Liz Raftery)
The Office series finale airs on Thursday at 9/8c on NBC. What were your favorite moments from the series? What will you miss most about the show?