The biggest fear among ‘The Office’ fans came to reality when Steve Carell announced in a recent report that he would leave the successful NBC show when his contract expires at the end of the 2010-2011 season. This has spawned some interesting conversation amongst the tabloids to see which direction the show will take. After all, the rest of the cast is signed on for 1 more season (through 2011-2012) which leads many to believe that the show will go on. Before we discuss the replacement strategy, let’s examine the situation at hand.
I’m not going to directly question Steve’s statement made last month that ‘I just think it’s time,I want to fulfill my contract’, however it would be naive to believe there isn’t more at stake here. Is it not fair to ask if this announcement prior to Season 7 filming is more strategic in nature and a ploy to induce a juicer contract when the existing one expires? It would be hard to imagine the show going on without the “World’s Best Boss” considering how many episodes solely reply on Carell’s improvisational skills and shenanigans to carry an episode. We saw how Charlie Sheen’s threats to leave ‘Two and a Half Men’ netted him a sweet new contract (2 million per episode!) in the 11th hour of contract negotiations. Come April, it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to have NBC execs reconsider priorities and empty their pockets to try and lure Steve back for at least 1 more season, especially considering ‘The Office’ is one of the top demographically targeted shows on the network.
From Carell’s perspective, TV is easily his most successful platform in show business. While many of his movies have done well, his movie career hasn’t exactly taken off to superstar status. It almost seems like a hit-or-miss with hits like ’40 Year Old Virgin’/’Get Smart’, but clunkers in ‘Evan Almighty’/’Dan in Real Life’. In fact in a non-animated lead role, his movies have netted an average of < 100M gross per film. We saw a similar story with Jennifer Aniston where the desire for big screen success did not necessarily translate to box office earnings. Steve's best work has come on the small screen starting out on the 'Daily Show' as a correspondent to Jon Stewart. Recognition here earned Carell the position as bumbling Dunder Mifflin middle manager Michael Scott on 'The Office' for which he has won a Golden Globe and been nominated for 5 Emmys. If status quo holds true and Steve plays out his contact at Season 7's end, NBC would likely keep the show going for at least 1 more season with the rest of the staff still under contract. After all, none of the employees have had much success outside the show, save for Jenna Fischer ('Blades of Glory', 'Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story'), Ed Helms ('The Hangover') and Craig Robinson ('Hot Tub Time Machine', 'Last Comic Standing'). In this scenario, who has the inside edge as new Dunder Mifflin boss? In a real office environment, a promotion would likely come from within. Considering the downsizing of the company, their are limited options as to who would be the likely candidate. If the show decides to go the route of hiring from outside, there are some solid candidates available as well. Let's discuss the lucky 7:
- John Krasinski (Jim) – in the current state of the show, Jim is considered the #2 and has even held a co-manager position in season’s past. He would make for the most logical candidate to replace Michael, however from a creative standpoint, we have already seen Jim in power and perhaps many of the story lines have been played out. John also lacks the charisma to hold this role on a weekly basis.
- Rainn Wilson (Dwight) – from the get-go, Dwight’s character has strived for power, however has never been in a position to execute many of his rudimentary and militant tactics. There is plenty of potential here to create obscure story lines while also serving as a great battle for the alpha-male (vs Jim) position along the way.
- Craig Robinson (Darel) – we’ve seen Darel rise from the warehouse to landing an office upstairs and so could the next step be to a promotion to office manager? There is plenty of back story to develop here and it would give writers an opportunity for Darel to rehire ex-warehouse worker Roy. After all, the happy-go-lucky couple (JAM) is due for some tension.
- Melora Hardin (Jan) – it could be in the show’s best interest to bring back Jan and create a fresh change of pace with a new female manager in the forefront perhaps even creating some tension between Kathy Bates, as head of Sabre. We’ve already seen a glimpse of ‘crazy Jan’ during Season 4, however there is more the show can do to back fill her character.
- Ricky Gervais (David) – this almost seems like the perfect option with the original ‘Office’ boss (UK) coming back to assume the role in the American version. The writers would likely have to tie in some type of crossover to bring David Brent over from England. We’ve seen Ricky shine in the role already and has a strong improv background.
- Conan O’Brien – ok, I’ll admit this might be wishful thinking however there is no doubt in my mind Conan could do hilarious things in a boss position. Ofcourse there would be that small little hurdle of coming back to NBC, a network that exiled him from late night, but this is show business and all can be forgiven by flashing around some green.
- Will Arnett – we’ve already seen excellance in this type of role as the power driven GOB on ‘Arrested Development’ (Come On!) and the flamboyant, vindictive Devon Banks on ’30 Rock’. There is no reason Arnett cannot stretch the character as new office manager however his new pilot on FOX (‘Running Wilde’) would have to fizzle out to be made available.
It will be interesting to see which direction the show goes. Considering the quality of remaining shows on NBC’s slate, there are very limited sure fire hits and even the critically acclaimed series (’30 Rock’, ‘Parks and Recreation’) are deadbeats in the ratings game. In my honest opinion, the show is too important for NBC to let go and pockets will surely empty at season’s end to keep Michael Scott hired for a few more seasons.