Q&A: Showrunner Greg Daniels Gives the Details on the Final Season of ‘The Office’

Daniels talks about wrapping up storylines, finding out about the documentary crew and if Steve Carell will return

Greg Daniels, the showrunner for NBC’s The Office, dropped a bombshell during a recent conference call I participated in: This will be the last season of The Office.

For fans of the show (like me), it was a bit of a shock but definitely not unexpected. This is the 9th season and it’s core group of actors, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer and Ed Helms are in their last years of a contract and would be on the verge of a huge raise. Rainn Wilson is set to leave and spin off his character, Dwight, on the new show, The Farm and Mindy Kalling (who has a new FOX pilot) and B.J. Novak have taken diminished roles this season. So, yeah, a shock but not unexpected.

I’ll be sad to see the show go but as you’ll read in this interview, they won’t leave it’s audience hanging. Daniels talks about wrapping up the storylines, finally finding out about the documentary crew that’s been following the characters for the past 9 years and if Steve Carell will return.

The Office’s final season begins on NBC on Thursday, September 20th at 9/8c

Greg Daniels: As you probably know I adapted The Office for American TV and ran the show for Seasons 1-5 and I have come back to run it for Season 9.

Before we say too much else I want to compliment Paul Lieberstein who ran the show the past few years. The cast and the crew and the writing staff were really in great shape and last year we were the highest rated scripted show on NBC.

And if you want to sharpen your pencils I have some other tidbits like that to compliment Paul. We were the youngest audience on ABC, CBS or NBC and the second most TiVoed or DVRed show. Our ratings go up 50% when you count Live +7.

There are some other good things like that if you do research. But basically the show is in good shape.

But I wanted to tell you that the reason that I have come back to the show is that we have thought about what the future of the show should be and always held the values that we should feel like a family and make something that has a lot of artistic integrity.

And so this year feels like for us like the last chance to really go out together and to make an artist ending for the show that pays off a lot of the stuff that has mattered most to fans with the core characters.

So this will be the last season of The Office and we are planning a very sort of big, exciting last season. We are going to have a lot of familiar faces coming back. We are going to Roy’s wedding. David Wallace is running the show. He is running the Dunder Mifflin show. I will be  writing the actual show.

We have a lot of funny stories and we are telling some crazy Dwight stories that we have wanted to tell for years. There is a lot of drama in the Jim and Pam story this year. The story is definitely not over for them. We think they all will learn PowerPoint.

We have a lot of great things planned basically. And as we head into the home stretch we have a lot of exciting things that I personally have been wanting to do since Season 2 and the ending should be pretty cool.

You mentioned that you want to do a big ending for the final season of the show and I was wondering if that would include mention of the whole documentary that has been done from Season 1?

Greg Daniels: Yes. Basically all questions will be answered this year. I think we are going to see who is behind the documentary and we are going to meet some of them.

And, you know, big Jim and Pam year. You will definitely, you and your site I think will be pleased and excited what we have planned for them, a good year to get the iTunes subscription.

Did this decision to end the show. Did this come relatively recently? It could have gone on for a while, right?

Greg Daniels: I think it could and we had debated whether to reboot it and I think it was a bit of choice, a bit of a difficult decision because the format is a very strong format and, you know, I think we are – you know for example we are introducing two new characters this year who I think are very, very funny played by Clark Duke and Jake Lacy.

And you could also – you could see a world where new people just keep coming on the show.

But I think ultimately this sort of feeling of, you know family and wanting to wrap up these arcs and do the justice to the existing characters in the most creative and explosive way kind of means that the show will be changed to such a degree that if anything was to continue it really wouldn’t be the same show.

And if we, you know, we have 15 of the veteran cast members coming back this season but everybody’s contracts only goes eight years. So it is tough and they all have a lot of exciting opportunities so it didn’t seem to me like we could count on getting that many people back for Season 10.

So, you know, it was a hard choice though but I think this is going to be a real gangbuster season. So hopefully people will think it was worth it.

In recent months, we have seen some really smart comedies on NBC that are coming to an end. You know The Office as well as 30 Rock and some other shows that always just seem to be on the bubble.  Is there still room for these kinds of shows on NBC or on broadcast network in general?

Greg Daniels: I don’t, you know, that is a good question. When we started there didn’t seem like there was room for a show like this on NBC because, you know, the biggest show on NBC I think when we started was Will and Grace and it was a multi-camera world.

And I kind of feel like we somewhat forced our way into the world through, you know, just the creative excitement over the cast and the different way of storytelling.

And, you know, I don’t think that certainly we are not leaving for any reason other than the ones I described. The show is very healthy and valued at NBC and, you know, it is actually surprising to me that they are being supportive of this creative decision.

But I don’t know what the future lies for them. That is a good question but I am sure that they have got a lot of stuff in development and hopefully there will be something that strikes a cord.

I mean this show to me obviously having worked on it, et cetera. It is not my place to compliment it but, you know, it was originally a British format and I just fell in love with this type of storytelling and the realism and sort of mix of comedy and realism and sincerity.

And I would hope that whatever multi-camera or single-camera comes along for NBC that, you know, something with that tone comes along. Because I think it is a classic NBC tone that kind of goes back to Cheers.

I wanted to ask you about this announcement today and now what it means for the Dwight spin-off, The Farm. Does this sort of increase the pressure on making that work? Do you see that show now as sort of your Frasier?

Greg Daniels: Well first of all, questions about The Farm should really be answered by Paul Lieberstein and Rainn Wilson because I am not participating in The Farm other than wishing it well and being excited to see it.

I don’t really think this changes very much. You know it is sort of symptomatic as a show gets older and the cast get to be more and more successful.

And they are offered more and more things and are not legally bound to work here, that, you know that there is going to be like a lot of interesting projects that they are all doing.

The assumption was that Krasinski and Helms probably would not be back after this season. I imagine that was a big part of it too. I am having a hard time imaging the show without those two actors.

Greg Daniels: Yes well I mean it would be a different show and it depends on like how important kind of closure and sort of a feeling of artistry are to you. And when we really thought about it we were like, you know, it is kind of important.

You know rather than constantly be introducing characters to really allow these, you know, especially I would say Jim and Pam. But, you know, I have always felt they were kind of the heart and soul of the show.

And, you know, back in the early days I had an inkling of what to do to end that storyline and, you know, to look and see the possibility of that never happening I thought was very compelling thing to try and grab and that the most loyal fans of the show would really want to see that happen.

So I hope I answered that. I am not sure I did.

Since there is going to be reduced appearances from a lot of the original players in the show this season but also some new faces being brought in as you addressed earlier.

What do you think is going to be the key to that transition now knowing that this is going to be the last season? Do you think that the show will sort of evolve in a different direction at all or can you talk about that a little bit?

Greg Daniels: In the last season?. Well definitely I think there is going to be differences between this year and previous years. For one thing I feel like the last few years we didn’t do arcs so much we were more pursuing episodic comedy.

But I think the real heart of the show are these arcs that allow the characters to have, you know, ongoing stories. So this is a very arc heavy year.

I mean it is all going to be set up in the premiere but there is just so much to pay off from nine seasons of so many great characters that, you know, my biggest concern is just packing in these great ideas that the writing staff has on cards all over the walls and making sure that we hit all of them or at least squeeze as many as we can into the ending.

So, you know, pretty much the core cast are all going to be there. You know Mindy and BJ are coming back just briefly hopefully more later. But, you know, but the majority I mean pretty much the cast we had last year plus Clark Duke and Jake Lacy are going to be there all the time.

And if they do take off for a few episodes to shoot a movie or something all it will do will be to make it easier to fit in all the ideas that we have because there are so many storylines to follow now.

And there are so many endings to write for different characters and kind of risky things that we wouldn’t normally do if we knew we were going for a long time.

But now when we know that we have an end date we can kind of blow up things and take some chances that, you know, it is very freeing creatively and hopefully will be exciting for the audience.

I wanted to ask you about taking some risks and taking some chances now you have an end date. Could you elaborate a little bit on that and also maybe give us a sense of some of the people you are hoping to get as guest stars going into this final season?

Greg Daniels: Sure, well for example, you know, we are very conscious of Rainn Wilson sort of being this sort of precious resource which is limited so we are debating all these stories for him.

And, you know like we have one coming up where (unintelligible) character is trying, Nellie is trying to have a charity drive at the office that is somewhat coercive and she is putting a lot of pressure on people to pick a charity to donate to.

And Dwight decides to donate to the Taliban in protest and, you know, so it gets kind of a little crazy there and, you know, we are talking about finding out who the strangler is.

You know some of the – so there are certain things which are, you know, just really fun for people who have been following the show, possibly some things which, you know, you might say we want to protect the characters for long term. Well, maybe that is not such a big important thing for the comedy.

You know and just the sort of the change to the world that is going to happen when we find out about the documentary more and start to break the fourth wall a little bit although there really isn’t a fourth wall in a mocumentary.

But we, you know, we are going to kind of use the fact that for nine years there has been a documentary crew filming this office and people always say, you know, why are they still filming? What are they after? You know?

I think we are going to explore that for comedy and for story effect. Hope that answered that question.

Is Michael Scott going to return?

Greg Daniels: That’s a good question.

Have you asked or is it a possibility or something you wish for or have no hope for.

Greg Daniels: We would certainly wish for it. We are not going to put so much pressure on Steve by writing something that can only work if he returns. But it would be fantastic if he would return. And I think that he, you know, for him he really loved how he was exited.

And is, you know, probably anxious about not, you know, messing up such a stylish exit. So, you know, that is a perfectly legitimate, you know, point.

But we will see. We haven’t written, you know, we just have the kind of ideas for the ending and obviously if he would participate we would have a lot of good times.

But, you know, it should go on. I mean the ideas we have will fly without him if he can’t make it. He is pretty busy.

What else? Well hopefully you can get a transcript because I don’t know what you missed but I said some great things.

You earlier said that your discussions with NBC about this end date were supportive. I even think you may have said surprisingly supportive if I hear that correctly.

Can you elaborate on that and just sort of the idea that as you said at the start of the conversation you remain one of their most successful shows if not the most successful?

Greg Daniels: Yes sure. Well, you know, Bob Greenblatt has been a producer and is very creative and I think really responded to the ideas that I pitched him at the beginning of the season about revealing the documentary.

And just some of the twists and turns that had planned that kind of would change the world so much that we felt it would be better to, you know, actually call it the last season of the show.

And, you know, the reason why I guess I felt it was surprising was because the show was the highest rated scripted show still on the network and I know he had a lot of new shows and, you know, a lot of people would cling to what was working to help them launch it and everything.

So but like I say again, I think he was very open to a creative pitch and, you know, we were pretty – this is, you know, this is stuff that the main – John and Jenna and Ed and Rain are producers this year and they are very in on this vision and this pitch and, you know, I think we all had a lot of passion for it and it was persuasive.

Was there reluctance on NBC’s part in general to see the end of the series come that had done so well?

Greg Daniels: Well like I say, you know, I think that at some point you have a choice and the choice is to always tell the beginnings of stories and the middles or to allow a story to end.

And I think endings can be very powerful and very meaningful pieces of the story. And if we didn’t let it end this year I don’t know if we would have been able to tell the ending stories for so many characters that I really want to know what the ending is going to be for them.

So, you know, just even as an audience member. And I think that that feeling is, you know, is kind of a cool feeling for the business side to have that they kind of participated in that creative interest in seeing how the show would end.

So they, you know, they may, you know, I assume the very ending will be quite emotional for all of us since it has been a really great run. But they may also be crying over lost advertising or whatever. I don’t know. Hopefully they will have other good things that are working by the end of the year.

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