The outlook is not good for NBC’s “The Office.” Executive producer and show-runner Paul Lieberstein, who plays HR rep Toby on the series, is stepping down from the show and helping only in a “reduced behind-the-scenes capacity,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Instead, Lieberstein will focus his attention on “The Farm,” an “Office” spin-off that will star Rainn Wilson and center on Dwight Schrute’s beet farm/bed-and-breakfast. (Great, because characters hanging out on a farm worked so well for “The Walking Dead.”) And, unfortunately, Dwight will have to manage without Mose, his Amish cousin. Lieberstein told Vulture they will need to find a way to explain his absence, since the person who plays him, Michael Schur, is busy writing and running “Parks and Recreation.” Lieberstein’s spin-off is in development for pilot season, which means it’s not necessarily headed to series yet. If it does, NBC hopes to extend “The Office” into a ninth season and transition Dwight into their new sitcom. That iffy overlap is contingent on NBC’s ongoing talks with the other remaining cast members.
Last month, James Spader confirmed his own upcoming exit from the series, after a one-season arc as enigmatic Dunder Mifflin CEO Robert California, and “The Office” head writer Daniel Chun signed an overall deal with ABC Studios in February to create new comedy programming. Of course, Steve Carell left the series at its peak in April 2011.
Meanwhile, Mindy Kaling, who plays Kelly Kapoor and serves as a writer and co-executive producer on the series, may be leaving too. In January, FOX greenlit a pilot for a single-camera comedy that Kaling wrote and executive produced. Kaling will play an OB/GYN (a tribute to her mother’s real-life profession) named Mira who attempts to balance life and work in her small medical office. Mira is a zany, messy “Bridget Jones-type” character with Kaling’s pop-culture referential wit and an affinity for rom-coms. The comedy is an easy fit for FOX’s Tuesday line-up, potentially alongside the similarly quirky female-focused sitcom “New Girl.”
According to EW, Ed Helms, who currently plays Andy on “The Office,” signed for a guest role in the pilot as Dennis, a Wall Street analyst (for Beyonce) that Mira briefly meets on a blind date. Bill Hader (NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”) will play Tom — seriously named after Tom Hanks — an ex-boyfriend whose nuptials send Mira out of control. Richard Schiff (NBC’s “The West Wing”) plays Dr. Shulman, the old-fashioned, Jewish head of their OBGYN practice. Other roles include Gwen (Mira’s best friend and a sexy mother named after Gwyneth Paltrow), demo-friendly receptionists and two male student-doctors, a jerk and a sexy Bradley Cooper-type.
If the show is picked up for the fall, “Office” chatterbox Kelly Kapoor would be kaput. Ironically, Kaling and Universal TV producers brought the idea to NBC first, and the struggling network passed. A deal would have kept NBC’s recognizable comedy faces (Kaling, Helms, Hader, and Wilson) all under the same roof for a big premiere as their flagship sitcom comes to an end.
Kaling, Helms, John Krasinski (Jim), Jenna Fischer (Pam) and B.J. Novak (Ryan) have no deals in place for a ninth season extension, and there have been conflicting reports on how those talks are going. Helms has carved out a niche for himself in movies. Krasinski is reportedly working on a “Capraesque” film project with Matt Damon and Good Will Hunting director Gus Van Sant, which could shoot this spring. Novak is starring in May’s The Dictator. Fischer is filming Kiss Me, a teen drama directed by “Survivor” host Jeff Probst (really). With only five episodes left to air in season 8, a decision on the future of “The Office” is expected soon.
Maybe it’s time. The series has not been as strong creatively since Carell left. Robert California went over like a lead balloon in the aftermath. Krasinski looks genuinely bored, even for Jim. The show can’t sustain only on the on-off office romance of Andy and Erin (Jim and Pam 2.0). Viewership has declined to its lowest level since the show’s rocky first season. Even if “The Office” miraculously make it to a ninth season, all signs point to an increasingly watered-down series as everyone jumps ship. (Remember the ungraceful ending of “Scrubs?”) Let it go, NBC.