While we’re still processing the notion that J. Lo and Steven Tyler might actually end up replacing Ellen DeGeneres and Simon Cowell on American Idol, there’s another pending primetime switcheroo still unresolved: Who’s going to replace Steve Carell on The Office? Well, Vulture has learned that NBC and the show’s producers are giving serious thought to a potentially mind-blowing candidate: Ricky Gervais. The question now: Is Gervais ready to do any mind-blowing?
Gervais himself is throwing cold water on the notion. “As David Brent would say, ‘Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt … ’,” he told us via e-mail. “As I would say, ‘Why would I get up at 6 a.m. five days a week for seven years when I can hire someone else to do that and still get my syndication money?’”
Still, NBC loves the idea of Gervais on The Office, and the showrunners are open to it. Here’s how things would go, should they come together: Gervais would revive David Brent, the character from the original U.K. edition of The Office — the one on which Carell’s Michael Scott is based. Senior NBC execs endorse the idea because Gervais brings with him his own large fan base, and would give the network a monster promotional hook to promote The Office in the post-Carell era. The show is one of NBC’s few certifiable success stories, and getting Carell’s replacement right is key to the Peacock maintaining any sort of toehold on Thursdays, a night which still commands premium ad rates. Gervais also has reason (unacknowledged by him, to be sure) to help see the transition through: He’s an executive producer on the U.S. series, and the longer the show continues, the more money he stands to make.
Paul Lieberstein, another executive producer of The Office (he also plays the hapless Toby), confirms that Gervais is being discussed by the show’s brain trust, which also includes creator Greg Daniels. “We talked about it today for a while,” Lieberstein told Vulture over the weekend. “It’s not the leading idea… [but] it’s not a dead idea.”
Lieberstein explained that there are pros and cons to the Gervais plan. On the one hand, “I don’t know how David Brent could take Michael Scott’s place because it would be a little bit too much of a coincidence that a documentary crew was also following him,” he says. “He was also fired for incompetence [in the U.K. Office], so we’d have to create some back story for what happened. There would be some things to deal with.” And yet, “On the flip side, you have someone who’s incredibly talented and who has played with a level of realism that’s the same as our show. It wouldn’t be like we would be taking a character from Cheers, like Norm, and putting him in the show.”
So, case closed? Probably. While networks have been known to open up their wallets in order to snag talent they really want, it’s doubtful NBC would put excessive pressure on Lieberstein and Daniels to go after Gervais if he’s not the showrunners’ first choice. That doesn’t mean Gervais might not yet pop up on the show at some point as part of the run-up to Carell’s exit in May. Indeed, Lieberstein hints that viewers will get to see a search for Michael Scott’s replacement on-air. “If Dunder Mifflin needed to replace Michael Scott, they’d consider both internal and external candidates. And we will show them considering both,” he says. “We’ll kind of start [the replacement process] and put it in motion.”
Lieberstein makes it clear that he still sort of hopes Carell will change his mind, and that none of this planning will need to be acted upon. “I don’t want Steve to go, and if he decides he wants to stay, I will be very happy with that,” he says.