In the third part of our goodbye to The Office, the cast and producers open up about the tough loss of the World's Best Boss Michael Scott, aka series star Steve Carell. After rising from network underdog to Best Comedy Series Emmy winner in Season 2, The Office solidified its status as one of the top comedies on TV. In 2007, NBC moved the series to its prized Thursday-at-9 timeslot. The following year, the network hand-picked The Office to air immediately following Super Bowl XLIII. However, the show was about to face a huge blow.
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 third in a four-part series. Check out Part 1 and Part 2.
The Office executive producer Ben Silverman was named the president of NBC Entertainment in 2007, and talks about a spin-off soon began.
Mike Schur: NBC knew that there was value in a spin-off in the sense that The Office was a huge hit and the characters were so well-known and there were so many of them. They felt like you could take a character from The Office world and build a new show around them without doing a lot of damage. ... Greg had approached me about developing a new show in the middle of Season 4 and at the time, Ben Silverman had gone to Greg. He had the idea to do a spin-off and Greg had sort of said to him, "I would love to develop a new show, but I can't say it's going to be a spin-off because I haven't even thought about what it would be yet." ... Greg is a very thorough person and we came up with, and rejected, 50 ideas for the show, some of which were spin-offs and some of which weren't.
Rainn Wilson: There was talk of both a Dwight spin-off and an Andy spin-off, but neither of those really had much traction.
Schur: Then it got announced to the press that there was going to be an Office spin-off, which was not great because, as Greg and I were working on the new show, the term spin-off is one that doesn't leave the public consciousness quickly.
Although not a spin-off, Parks and Recreation employed a similar single-camera, mockumentary feel to The Office and even brought on Office vet Rashida Jones as a series regular.
Schur: From the moment that we said this is the idea that we really thought was great and that it wasn't going to be a spin-off, NBC was nothing but supportive.
Talks about a spin-off picked up again during Season 8.
Wilson: I was really kind of ready to end Dwight at that point, but I just loved the idea so much. I loved the idea of a rural show on a farm and the amazing characters and situations you could get into. And I also liked the idea of Dwight kind of changing — not just being the supporting weird guy, but being the center of the show. How does he need to grow and mature to be that lead in the same way that Frasier had to kind of grow and mature to be the lead of his show?
Schur: Rainn is a great, great screen presence and I think it made a lot of sense to try him. When Greg and I were first thinking about potential spin-offs, Rainn was an obvious person to think about because he's a comedy force.
NBC passed on The Farm spin-off in 2012. The backdoor pilot episode aired the following year.
Wilson: It doesn't fit in with the current administration at NBC. I don't think they cared for it very much. But in a weird way, the timing was a little wrong. It really would have been good to have a Dwight spin-off in Season 5 or Season 6 or something like that. It probably would have been better spinning it off a little bit earlier.
Ben Silverman: I thought it was great. Greg and I think everyone just wanted to focus on ending this season and honoring this show.
Wilson: It was certainly disappointing, but I will say that I was in this great position because I felt like if the show got picked up, I was really excited to make it. If it got turned down, I'm really happy to let Dwight go and let him end with the end of The Office.
Rumblings of a huge departure started in the summer of 2010 when Steve Carell publicly stated that he planned to leave at the end of Season 7.
Greg Daniels: Early on, everybody renegotiated and they added a year to their contracts, but Steve didn't. So everybody's contracts went through Season 8 except for Steve. So we knew very early on that he was going to leave at the end of Season 7. He was very upfront about it and he didn't play any games. Certainly, I was happy that he gave us seven years, considering that he became a huge movie star after Season 1 and he could have just made a ton more movies if he hadn't been doing the show.
Angela Kinsey: He had talked to a few of us about it, because it's not a decision you make lightly. I think he was really contemplating what it meant. He's a very conscientious person. ... It made sense for Steve and in what he thought was the evolution of Michael Scott and where Michael Scott had gotten to.
Silverman: It was an ongoing process and I was, unfortunately, well gone from the network at that point. During the process, the kind of interim management, from what I understand, just didn't connect to him personally that well. So it was just unfortunate, because I think he misses Michael Scott, and The Office misses him.
Daniels: I tried through my lawyer and I know that the network tried, but I also wanted to be respectful and not make a giant scene about it. Could he possibly have done more seasons? I don't even want to think that I left a stone unturned. I don't like to think that we maybe could have persuaded him to stay for more years.
Schur: Steve is a guy who has a tremendous amount of personal integrity. He just has gut feelings about things and he goes by his gut. So if he felt it was time to move on and that he had taken the character as far as it could go, nothing was ever going to change his mind.
The question turned to whether the documentary — and the show — could go on without its narrator and leading man.
Daniels: We felt like our bench was so deep with the cast that we could tell plenty of stories, and great stories, with the people that we had. We felt like the show had a lot of juice left.
Wilson: There were a lot of naysayers and haters who were just like, "Steve's gone; the show is going to suck." It's a tremendous blow to lose one of the funniest actors that has ever lived from your TV show, but at the same time, look at the ensemble.
Silverman: I knew the show could go on, no doubt. We had a murderer's row. Mickey Mantle replaced Joe DiMaggio and, in terms of taking Steve's mantle, Ed Helms and then Rainn Wilson and all of our characters did that.
Kate Flannery: I was definitely worried. Conceptually, I understand why it could still continue. Because I feel like our concept of having an office job — for most everyone who's at an office job— it never ends. So I felt like, well, maybe this has more longevity. I knew it was going to change though. It was definitely a time of fear.
Ellie Kemper: That show was kind of told through Michael Scott's eyes until he left, so there's a definite inevitable transition.
Daniels, then working on Parks and Recreation, returned to pen Carell's final episode, "Goodbye Michael."
Daniels: I made myself cry in a Coffee Bean at one point, which is ridiculous. [Laughs] I think I was writing the final Michael-Dwight scene when Dwight opens the reference letter.
Kemper: I was happy that Michael Scott got to have all these individual goodbyes with our characters because it meant that the cast members too got to have these sweet goodbyes with Steve.
Oscar Nunez: It was one of the saddest things I've ever lived through. [Laughs] It was sadder than the show ending, for me, when Steve left. ... He gave a speech in the warehouse. And Paul Lieberstein hadn't cried either and Paul was standing next to me, and then Paul started crying a little bit and then I started crying. And I had to run behind some things to cry, because everyone was crying openly, but I'm Cuban and I can't. And so I went and hid.
Daniels: There were a lot of tears. He was totally beloved by the cast and crew. I went around interviewing different crew members that week about why they loved Steve so much. It was around the same time that there was that meltdown with Charlie Sheen, so I had a bunch of jokes about some evidence of bad behavior.
Jenna Fischer: Steve was No. 1 on the call sheet because he was the lead of the show. And when he left, we retired his number. No one, ever since he left, was allowed to be No. 1.
In Michael's final moment, he takes off his mic at the airport and asks the documentary crew to let him know "if this thing ever airs" — a signal of things to come in the show's final season.
Silverman: That was the first time we kind of broke the wall. We thought we could do it then because it was such a seminal moment for the show that we could tap into it and we kind of felt like we needed Michael to acknowledge it.
Fischer: I remember that the director just said, "Jenna, it's not going to be mic-ed. Just walk up to him and say goodbye to Steve. Just tell Steve how much you're going to miss him." ... So we stood there and I was telling Steve how I felt about him and I'm sobbing and then I walked back and they said, "Jenna, that was excellent. That was three minutes. Can you do it in about 30 seconds?" [Laughs]
Schur: I think Michael Scott is going to go down as a first-tier hall of fame TV character. I don't know that there are many more hilarious and emotionally complex and wonderful portrayals of characters. ... The fact that he never won an Emmy for playing that role is just completely insane to me.
Kemper: Personally, I wish we could have continued to hear from [Michael Scott] even after he moved to Colorado to be with Holly, just in the world of the show, but I think that wasn't an option for whatever reason.
Carell's Anchorman co-star Will Ferrell appeared in a four-episode arc as Michael Scott's replacement, Deangelo Vickers.
Kemper: I felt like he was our foster dad or something, and he was like, "Guys, it's going to be OK. I'm going to help you through this transition."
Fischer: He has a similar energy to Steve. ... It was more difficult when we came back at the beginning of the following year and Steve still wasn't with us. That's when it really sunk in. "Oh, wow. He's really not coming back."
Season 8, featuring James Spader's Robert California as the office boss, received mixed reviews and ratings dropped 16 percent.
Kinsey: We were all really emotional when Steve left, and at the same time excited, if that makes any sense. Because here you are in your eighth season of a show, and all of a sudden you get to breathe some new life and shake things up a little bit. I feel like we came back, after he left — after we were sad and mourned — we were like, "Ooo, what do we get to play? What do we get to do?"
Silverman: I definitely think it didn't have the sense of purpose and focus that Season 9 has had.
Wilson: I knew that it would take a little while to find our footing and our rhythm, and it did. There were some adjustments. That first season when Steve was gone, there were a couple of not-great episodes, but there were also some of the funniest episodes that we've ever made.
Flannery: I think we were just finding our way, and I think we needed the time and space to do that. ... The next year, I just feel like the writers really went for it. We went to new territory in such a great way.
Kinsey: The ensemble really rose. We had this great group of people and we got to start to really play some. So I think it all worked out as it was meant to.
Kemper: [James Spader] was a cool addition to the show and that character was certainly different from Michael Scott, which I think it had to be. He wasn't a replacement.
Daniels: I kind of felt like it was inevitable to have that criticism somewhat, and I think that people were maybe emboldened to make some of those comments because of the ratings declines that were happening all through NBC. But I think it was a really good year. ... I think if you look at it now, it was really strong.
(Additional reporting by Liz Raftery)
Part 4: Producers and cast open up about deciding to end the show, breaking the fourth wall and saying goodbye to Dunder Mifflin for good.