Steve Carell: It’s a Good Thing Charlie Sheen Can’t Replace Him -

Steve Carell: It’s a Good Thing Charlie Sheen Can’t Replace Him

All the “Jim is the new Michael” storylines are going to come in handy


So, it turns out that when Steve Carell said he was thinking of leaving The Office after the upcoming season, he wasn’t just playing hardball for more money: he really wants to leave when his contract is up, and the writers will presumably have a year to figure out how to write him off and lay the groundwork for a Michael Scott-less season. Even if they don’t ultimately decide to move Jim into the permanent boss role, all the “Jim is the new Michael” storylines they’ve done are certainly going to come in handy in a spot like this.

The show will likely go on if Carell leaves (even Carell has been trying to emphasize this in its interviews). For one thing NBC doesn’t have another comedy that’s even remotely successful. Even if, as is likely, the ratings go down without Carell, what else does the network have? Outsourced? NBC has a long tradition of putting itself in this position, where they don’t have any popular new comedies and have to hang on to their old hits as long as they can; The Office is no Friends in terms of success, but the network will still want to keep it around until it comes up with some new mainstream hits… which should happen around 2015 at this rate.

(I’ll add that this news further calls into question NBC’s decision to schedule Community at 8 o’clock. That show isn’t yet popular enough to lead off a night, but it does have more growth potential than 30 Rock or even Parks and Recreation, and by placing it in the most vulnerable time slot — leading off Thursdays and smack up against Big Bang Theory — NBC is pretty much dooming it. It would make more sense to put it after The Office and see if it can get strong enough to hold up its own end in 2011-2.)

And for another thing, this coming season will only be the sixth full season, plus the first mini-season; I doubt the writers, actors or network are ready to move on to projects that probably won’t be as good.

So it’ll go on, but it’s not as common as I might have thought for ensemble shows to go on without the lead. I would have thought, offhand, that an ensemble show — particularly one about a workplace, where people come and go — can survive the loss of almost anybody. (Whereas if Roseanne were to leave Roseanne, that would pretty much be it.) But in practice there’s usually one essential star that the show cannot survive without. M*A*S*H had to have Alan Alda; Cheers had to have Ted Danson. When those guys didn’t want to do it any more, the shows couldn’t go on. The difference is that they left after 10 years, so the show could reasonably be retired with them; Carell is planning to leave at a point where the show can’t afford to end just because he’s going away.

Happy Days, the show that somehow managed to incorporate every single “Trope” (sorry, I know some commenters hate that word, and I even understand why), actually managed to improve its ratings after Ron Howard left, but that was because Howard was essentially the second lead in all but billing, and had been for years. I don’t think The Office has a character who can be The Star the way Carell is. However, Happy Days also filled the Howard gap by playing up the romance of Joanie and Chachi, so prepare for lots more Jim and Pam action — maybe a separation followed by multiple reunions, something like that.

And then there’s Spin City, where Michael J. Fox had to leave due to his illness, and was replaced by Charlie Sheen. Fortunately that’s not an option for The Office.

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Steve Carell: It’s a Good Thing Charlie Sheen Can’t Replace Him

  1. I know I was devastated when Richie and Ralph didn't come back for that season opener and, instead, we had a beard-donning teacher-to-be Fonz to deal with, along with his new straight man cousin Roger. So, I'm definitely surprised to learn that the ratings went up.

    I think the Richie/Fonz relationship was crucial to the show. I also think that, without Ralph, Potzie became nothing more than a doofus punching bag for the remainder of the series. So, personally, I think those losses were crucial to the show, but I guess the ratings didn't reflect that.

    With respect to The Office, it will be interesting to see how they cope without Steve Carell. On the one hand, the Office environment is essentially an extension of Michael Scott's management vision, if you can call it that, which is that the office is a family. On the other hand, I don't think that the show itself is dependent on his presence, or any relationship he's developed with other characters. The series of shows in which he left to run his own company might have foreshadowed office life without its Scott as the manager.

    So, I think they can pull it off, but it's still easier said than done. There's no way to know how it all meshes until after the fact. Like all good shows, a lot of luck is involved – and it's a luck that you risk tampering with when changing things midstream.

  2. I think it should just end once Carell leaves, but if it doesn't, it will go one of three ways:

    1) Jim is the boss. We've already seen that with him be the co-manager.
    2) Some new actor comes into fill the boss gap, and does a terrible job.
    3) David Koechner's Todd Packer is the new boss. He's a somewhat established character, completely off the wall, and horribly inappropriately funny.

  3. It just won't be the same without him. I hope that they just pack in the whole show and go out on a high note. Let's hope it's not like Happy Days; hanging on too long and "jumping the shark".

  4. John Oliver could replace him and it'll be just like the original Office. The way the show ended this season, it seems like they're already planning to reduce Carell's role in the series.

  5. Here's a thought: how about bringing in Ricky Gervais?

  6. One show that surprised me after it lost its main character was 'The X-Files.' Fox Mulder was so central to the show's premise, but Robert Patrick filled that void well.

    Admittedly, even I gave up during the final season, but by then Gillian Anderson was also mostly gone, and I never took to her replacement.

    • Hmm. Wasn't a big follower of that show, but maybe the plot template is as big a factor in shows like that as much as the characters are, or even more so. Law & Order comes to mind, where the lead characters are more interchangeable than the basic plot structure.

  7. I would see this as an opportunity to really do an uncompromising awkward silence comedy a la I'm Alan Partridge or the original Office. The American Office is at its best when it puts an American spin on these themes (Diversity Day is my favourite episode). Over time, partly as a function of character development (something the Brits don't have to worry about as much with 6 episode seasons), but also as a matter of playing itself Michael Scott became too likable and often insufficiently believable.

    Without that kind of a turn, I think you will get a show that is just another office comedy full of zany characters. As the writers seek out new ways to use the characters they have, the show will inevitably run out of "straight men" and self-destruct. I don't think David Koechner or John Oliver could pull that off. The problem with Todd Packer is that he seems like the kind of guy that would KNOW he is committing a social faux pas but not care. Michael Scott, David Brent and Alan Partridge do care very much about how they are perceived, but lack the social awareness and often intelligence to avoid awkward comments. John Oliver (or Samantha Bee), while a very funny guy, poses a similar problem. His Daily Show persona is built around curmudgeonly contrarianism.

    I think the golden formula is to have somebody that takes themselves very seriously (ie. they have a philosophy about who they are and care a great deal about how they are perceived) but have limited social awareness. I could see season 2 Andy Bernard filling this role, but they have really de-pantsed the character with his relationship with the receptionist. I could see Gabe filling this role in some respect based more on his character in the excellent movie "In the Loop" than The Office.

    Of course, I think it is more likely that they will fill the role based on number-crunching demographic-seeking (as Parks and Rec did with Rob Lowe). This kind of approach usually heralds the death of a show.