Steve Carell was one of the biggest reasons for the success of The Office on NBC, thanks to his portrayal of the extremely inappropriate but loveable idiot Michael Scott, manager of his branch of the Dunder-Mifflin paper company. That’s why his departure in the seventh season of the series really took a toll on the show’s quality, and it never really recovered until near the end of the final season. It was thought Steve Carell was ready to move on to bigger things, but what if we told you he didn’t want to leave the show at all?
This week saw the release of a new book called The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s by Rolling Stone journalist Andy Greene. The book provides an oral history of the entire series, speaking with the cast and crew, getting the inside scoop on the happenings behind the scenes, and much more. One of the biggest revelations in the book, brought to our attention by Collider, is the real reason why Steve Carell left The Office.
The chatter around Steve Carell leaving The Office began in April of 2010 when the actor mentioned that he might be leaving the show when his contract ran out at the end of the seventh season. Many thought this could have been a tactic on Carell’s behalf to begin new contract negotiations, but when it was revealed that Steve Carell was actually leaving during season seven, it was assumed that he wanted to dedicate more time to his film career. It turns out neither was really true.
Brian Wittle, the boom operator and sound designer for The Office, recalled a conversation he had with Steve Carell after that interview took place. He explains in the book:
“I sat with him one time and he told me the story. He was doing a radio interview and he haphazardly mentioned, almost unconsciously, that it might be his last season. He didn’t plan on saying it out loud and he hadn’t decided anything. He was kind of thinking out loud, but he did it in an interview in public and it created news. Then what he said was the people connected to the show had no reaction to it. They didn’t call and say, ‘What? You wanna leave?’ He said he didn’t get any kind of response from them. When he realized he didn’t get any kind of response from them, he thought, ‘Oh, maybe they don’t really care if I leave. Maybe I should go do other things.’ So I think that made it easier, because when the news broke that he was considering it, the people that are in charge of keeping him there didn’t make a big effort to do so until afterward.”
Kim Ferry, the hairstylist on the show, backs up Wittle’s story too:
“[Carell] didn’t want to leave the show. He had told the network that he was going to sign for another couple of years. He was willing to and his agent was willing to. But for some reason, they didn’t contact him. I don’t know if it was a game of chicken or what… He planned on staying on the show. He told his manager and his manager contacted them and said he’s willing to sign another contract for a couple years. So all of that was willing and ready and, on their side, honest. And the deadline came for when they were supposed to give him an offer and it passed and they didn’t make him an offer. So his agent was like, ‘Well, I guess they don’t want to renew you for some reason.’ Which was insane to me. And to him, I think.”
So NBC had Steve Carell, the star of their extremely successful comedy series, willing to sign a contract for another couple years, and they just didn’t do anything to stop him from leaving the show? That’s mind-boggling and extremely frustrating. If Steve Carell hadn’t left The Office, we might have seen the show continue its run of high-quality comedy for two more seasons instead of taking a steep decline following his departure.
The reason NBC didn’t stop him may have had to do with a changing of the guard at NBC during the time Carell was considering leaving the show. NBC Universal President and CEO Jeff Zucker was leaving the company and Bob Greenblatt was stepping up to replace him. As The Office producer Randy Cordray remembers the series of events, Greenblatt “was not as big a fan of The Office as we wished he would’ve been.” But Greenblatt doesn’t take the blame either, saying, “I think Steve was already departing the show when I arrived. I couldn’t do anything about that since it preceded me.”
At the end of the day, Steve Carell didn’t have anyone at NBC try to change his mind by getting him to sign a new contract, and the result was a fond farewell to Michael Scott. It also ended up being a farewell to the higher ratings that the series enjoyed while Steve Carell was on the show, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes. At least Dunder-Mifflin got 9,986,000 minutes of Michael Scott as the manager.
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