Currently in its farewell season, The Office presents a hilarious documentary-style look at the humorous and poignant foolishness that plagues the 9-to-5 world. And now, after nine seasons, the staff of paper supply company Dunder Mifflin, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, will be closing the doors for good.
As part of the TCA Press Tour, the press was invited out to the set of the comedy series to talk about what fans can expect from the last episodes. During the interview, executive producer Greg Daniels talked about why he made the decision to return to the show full-time, whether there was ever the possibility of a tenth season, how they’re trying to give each character a really good moment or send-off, past characters that will be returning, that they do have a goal that they’re aiming for with their finale, but that it’s still evolving, and that they’ll be including ideas that they’ve had, over the years, that would have been too weird to throw in, when the show was still continuing. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Question: What went into your decision to come back full-time to run the show? How important was it for you to be the guy to oversee how these stories wrapped up?
GREG DANIELS: It was very important. I hadn’t been full-time on the show for a few years, and I just have a very strong connection to everybody. I feel responsible for everybody, and I couldn’t imagine a scenario where I wouldn’t be directing what was happening, at the end. It happened to me on King of the Hill, where I’d left it before the end and didn’t really participate in the ending, and I always felt a little bit like I wanted to try a different version of that story. This show was more emotional to me than any other experience I’ve had. So, I’m in it now and I’ll tell you that it is very emotional. I am so happy that I got a last turn at playing this game.
Had you always thought about eventually turning the camera around on the documentary crew, or did you get that idea once you knew this would be the last season?
DANIELS: Yeah, maybe in Season 2 or Season 3. In the early days, we didn’t really have any expectation of going nine years, so it was all about pleasing ourselves and coming up with some weird stuff. So, the basic idea for the last episode has been floating around since way back then, but the specifics of how we’re getting there are changing. And then, we had an idea, around Season 4, that we are incorporating. I don’t know. Basically, what we’re doing is all the really cool ideas that we had over the years where we were like, “That’s really cool, but I don’t see how you come back from that.” We’ve saved all those up, and we’re gonna start billing them out in a couple episodes.
Was there ever any possibility of a tenth season, or did you want to end it here?
DANIELS: Well, the decision to end it here was made by pretty much everybody who is a producer now, which includes a lot of the main cast. The contracts for the entire cast were up in Season 8. In discussing what we would do, and if we wanted to keep going, it was a lot about having a great final, creative tying-up-all-the-storylines year. But, we’re still doing very well for NBC, and they would probably have had us back for another year.
You have such a stellar cast, and they do such a tremendous job making each character richer and fuller. Did you want to develop any kind of spin-off for any of them?
DANIELS: Yeah. We have an upcoming episode, called “The Farm,” that was meant to be a spin-off. And there were other ideas for spin-offs. At Season 3, we started talking about it, but I was very reluctant to do a spin-off because I associated it with 1970s spin-off. Ben Silverman really wanted a spin-off, and I managed to take his desire for a spin-off and turn that into Parks and Recreation, which wasn’t a spin-off. And then, “The Farm” came along. There are so many wonderful characters and wonderful, talented actors in this cast that you could spin off in a million different directions. I also think our writing staff is very full of vim and vigor and could take on a spin-off.
Since Season 1, it’s been such a huge thing for Jim (John Krasinski) to get out of the office and expand his horizons. How important was it to have him to do this arc, in this final season?
DANIELS: Well, we had been respectful of their marriage and their relationship, and we didn’t want to put pressures on them, for a very long time. And then, part of the appeal of this last season was to try and do that. The specifics of it was an idea that John had, in terms of going to Philadelphia and the new company. From the writing standpoint, what was very exciting was that the Jim and Pam relationship was really engaging to our fans, and on the websites that follow the show, you can really see how important it was to them, and a lot of them have grown up in their relationships with the show. One of the things we really wanted to explore, thematically, this season was the difference between the fairytale romance and reality. The show was always an extremely realistic show, and was purporting to be a documentary, but their relationship is also so romantic and perfect, and it seemed like there was a little bit of tension there. One of the things we’re excited about for this year is the chance for all the fans who have been following the show religiously, for years, to really get off on all the connections and the wrap-ups and the artistry that we’re trying to bring to the end.
Are a lot of the more secondary characters going to be getting their own extra special plot lines on the way out?
DANIELS: Yeah. That was something that (executive producer) Paul [Lieberstein] came up with last year. One of the ideas for the season was that there should be a “Goodbye, Meredith” episode, a “Goodbye, Stanley” episode, and a lot of different episodes like that. I think we’re trying to give each character a really good, interesting moment or send-off.
DANIELS: Everybody A through M is leaving by Episode 19. In Episode 15, someone will be fired, and there’s drama.
Will any past characters be back?
DANIELS: We saw David Denman in Episode 2, this year. We’ve so far seen Melora Hardin, and there’s an upcoming episode where Zach Woods comes back. For the finale, Mindy [Kaling] and B.J. [Novak] should be back. It will be good to involve them.
What are the chances of Steve Carell returning before the series is done?
DANIELS: Steve is very much of the opinion that the “Goodbye, Michael” episode, and the story arc that we did leading up to it, was his goodbye to the fans and to the show. The stuff that we’re doing this season is the goodbye that the rest of the show gets to have. So at the moment, we don’t have any plans for him to come back. There’s still a lot of good things that we have planned for the rest of the goodbyes.
How did you know how to make the show work for so long past where the British show went?
DANIELS: With Steve’s character, we made him more three-dimensional, after Season 1, and put him into more of a tradition of American character comedy, where you are rooting for him, as opposed to judging him.
Do you know what your last episode is, at this point?
DANIELS: Well, there’s an idea, but it’s a very collaborative process. Every time we have a table reading, somebody comes up with a better idea than we had in the script, and sometimes it pulls the story forward a little bit, and then we have to invent something at the end. So, we do have a goal that we’re aiming for, but how we get there is changing. We’ve pretty much written up to Episode 18, and Episodes 23 and 24 are going to be a one-hour finale, so we’re about six away.
What are you envisioning, thematically, for the finale?
DANIELS: If you look at how many characters there are, and you think that it will be our 200th half-hour when we do the finale, I don’t think we’re planning on packing everything into the last episode. I would encourage people that, if you are waiting for the end of The Office to re-tune in, right away. It is the beginning of the end, where we start to break down what’s going on with this documentary and see behind-the-scenes with who is involved. We’re going to play that more and more, leading towards the end, in a way where we couldn’t have done a lot of these ideas [in earlier seasons] because it would have just been too weird to continue after.
The Office airs on Thursday nights on NBC.