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‘The Office’ faces challenge of replacing its central character

The folks at Dunder Mifflin didn’t realize how attached they were to Michael Scott until they were about to lose him. Better the crazy boss you know than the potentially crazy boss you don’t know, they seemed to be thinking when he told them he was moving to Seattle with Holly.

Fans of “The Office,” the NBC comedy that revolves around antics at the paper company, may be in the same position.

Now that Steve Carell is on his way out the door after seven seasons as the “World’s Best Boss” (that’s what the coffee mug said), it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the job. Or is it?

Carell’s last episode airs this week (9 p.m. EDT Thursday on NBC), running 50 minutes as Michael plans private goodbyes to his co-workers.

His successor will be revealed May 19 in the season finale, packed with guest stars including Ricky Gervais (creator of “The Office” and star of the British version), Will Arnett (“Arrested Development”), James Spader (“Boston Legal”) and Ray Romano (“Men of a Certain Age”), plus Will Ferrell, introduced last week, and British comic actress Catherine Tate.

Buzz is that the replacement boss will be seen in the season finale. But does that mean it’s one of these people? Or will someone from the inside – Jim (John Krasinski), maybe, or Darryl (Craig Robinson) – get the big promotion?

You can be sure producers have weighed their options with utmost care.

Nobody, least of all NBC, wants to hurt the network’s highest-rated Thursday comedy, one that’s already been picked up for fall.

The loss of a star can revitalize a show (Shelley Long’s exit did that for “Cheers”) or kill it (“The X-Files” should have called it quits when David Duchovny left).

In real life, people leave jobs and neighborhoods all the time. On TV, though, we get so attached to favorite characters that an exit can be upsetting, even if it shouldn’t make a difference.

“CSI,” a crime-solving procedural about a team of forensics investigators, is hardly a character-driven show, but William Petersen’s departure from the role of Gil Grissom sapped the series of its heart.

And “Scrubs” shouldn’t even have tried to continue with an entirely new cast.

But “8 Simple Rules” kept going, eventually running three seasons after the death of star John Ritter three episodes into Season 2. “Spin City” lasted two seasons after Michael J. Fox reduced his role and then departed altogether. And “Valerie’s Family” ran three more seasons (retitled “The Hogan Family”) after star Valerie Harper quit.

“The Office,” like “Cheers,” is an ensemble show that at best is more than the sum of its parts. And the series has already reinvented itself once, with unusual success, in the move to America from England and to Carell from Gervais.
There’s no reason to think a new boss, if wisely chosen, won’t fit in fine.

On the other hand: How does a sitcom replace a brother?

Sure, Samantha got a new husband on “Bewitched” without much problem, and the Cunninghams of “Happy Days” sent son Chuck off to wherever.

But Charlie Sheen, fired from “Two and a Half Men” for his behavior problems, was both the star of the show and the inspiration for his character, who often seemed to be mirroring Sheen’s own life.

Just as “The Office” is one of NBC’s few bright spots, “Two and a Half Men” is a powerhouse in CBS’ lineup, even in repeats. The network renewed the series in 2009 for three additional seasons, with one more to go.

The core of “Men” is also a family _ two brothers (Sheen and Jon Cryer), one brother’s son (Angus T. Jones) and a mother/grandmother (Holland Taylor). It’s not as if producer Chuck Lorre can recast the role of Charlie with a Jerry O’Connell or Jonathan Silverman.

Or can he? The result could certainly be hilarious.

“Two and a Half Men” actually has more options than “The Office.” Lorre could simply kill the Charlie Harper character, have him disappear in Africa, or send him on a round-the-world sailing voyage from which he’s never able to Skype.

Then, the show could go on with the rest of the ensemble intact, perhaps with the unexpected arrival of Charlie’s previously unknown 20-something son, played by Zac Efron.

As for “The Office,” my money is on wild card Tate as the new boss. She’s smart-funny (look her up on YouTube), a sketch-comedy veteran who had her own “Catherine Tate Show” in Britain. To show her versatility, she played a “Doctor Who” companion.

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One comment

  1. I read from another article that Jim Carey was a guest on the finale of “The Office.” The other rumor I heard was that the new boss would be picked from the guest stars that appeared on the final episode. This seems like a publicity stunt to me. I would prefer Catherine Tate to be honest. I think her show was the greatest. It would be so funny if she played a cross dresser character that wanted to be respected as a man. I was watching a few episodes today on my iPhone when I had some time to kill waiting for my wife to get some things at the store to take to her mother’s house. I love my DISH Network Sling adapter because I can get TV when it’s convenient either from my DVR like today or live sports when I’m not at home.

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