You know that tear-filled May season finale of The Office featuring Steve Carell's swan song as Michael Scott we've all been expecting? Turns out Carell won't be in it. That's because Michael will actually leave Scranton (or at least Dunder-Mifflin) about a month before the season ends, according to Office show-runner Paul Lieberstein (also, Toby). "Steve will have a number of episodes that dramatize and lead up to Steve leaving," the producer tells Vulture. "Then we'll continue on for about four more episodes, and the spring will prove to be not about an actor leaving, but what happens in an office when a manager leaves and the chaos ensues and people vie for the job and are uncertain about their future." Producers chose this path because it was important for them to make sure the second half of the season wasn't all about Michael moving on. "It was about focusing the spring on the office and everybody else, and not just a character going. If the show was ending, it would be about that. But it's not." So does this mean we'll find out who the new boss is by season's end, or are producers planning a May cliff-hanger?
"I can't say yet," Lieberstein says. But he did confirm that the show will explore both internal and external candidates as replacements for Michael. And the latter scenario means "we are talking about guest stars" coming in to basically interview for the gig. (Kathy Bates confirmed Thursday that she'll be back for a few episodes later in the season.) As for in-house candidates, it's looking a lot more like Mindy Kaling's Kelly will at least make a play for the position. "Now that she has executive training, she's going to want that job," Office head writer Daniel Chun told us. "At least in her own mind, she deserves to be a manager."
Kaling, who's talked before about the possibility of Kelly taking over for Michael, continues to see some logic in such a twist. "People who aren't necessarily qualified to be the boss are sometimes put in positions that management hopes they grow into," she said. "And the boss [doesn't have] to be the starring role. Most shows are about all the underlings. I could see a world where Kelly becomes the boss, and it's not a show about Kelly." Still, other current Office staffers seem more likely candidates; Lieberstein tells HitFix's Alan Sepinwall that Darryl, Dwight, and Andy are also in the running.
Despite the looming loss of Carell, Lieberstein (as well as several other writer-producers-actors on The Office we spoke to last night at an NBC party) seems pretty damn upbeat about the second half of the year, and beyond. "This time last year there was probably a lot of dread," Lieberstein admits. "But right now there's a lot of excitement. We're having the kinds of conversations we had in seasons one and two about, 'What is the show?' It feels like we ... can really influence the show in a way we couldn't last year. It feels really cool."
As for Carell, Lieberstein says that the actor is starting to show signs of coming to terms with the fact that his days in Scranton are nearly over. "I do get the feeling that Steve has been savoring his last group of episodes," he says. "It's just a feeling. He seems to be a little sentimental."