Paul Lieberstein of 'The Office' Talks About Replacing Steve Carell
by Joel Keller, posted Aug 24th 2010 2:01PM
Paul Lieberstein is familiar to most fans of 'The Office' through his acting work as Dunder Mifflin Scranton's put-upon HR rep Toby Flenderson. But Lieberstein has also been on the show's writing staff since day one and ascended to the role of showrunner a couple of years ago. So if there's anyone who has an idea of how the show is going to replace Steve Carell and his iconic character of Michael Scott, it's Lieberstein.
When I caught up to him at the NBC TCA party last month, though, Lieberstein couldn't say how that was going to happen, mainly because the writers were still sorting things out themselves. But if he had a choice of who could manage the Scranton office, at least among the people who are already there, he'd pick either Andy Bernard (played by Ed Helms) or Darryl Philbin (played by Craig Robinson).
Lieberstein and I talked about last year's bumpy creative ride, how Dwight could fit in as the new boss and how Michael will torture his archenemy Toby this year. Oh, and he also gave me a possible casting tidbit when I mentioned Amy Adams instead of Amy Ryan.
Angela Bromstad [NBC's Primetime Entertainment president] said in the executive panel that you guys knew about Steve Carell leaving long before he talked about it to anyone else. When did he tell you guys "Hey I'm not going to sign another contract?" Seven years ago?
He didn't say that, but his behavior was incredibly consistent.
Meaning that if you add time to your contract, a tremendous amount of money is available to you. And the only reason, the only reason not to accept that money is because you really don't [want to stay]. And it's more money than if we just wait 'til the end [of the contract] and then renegotiate. So, it was pretty clear. And the other thing is, you put yourself in his shoes a little bit and you can see that [in] exploring Michael Scott for so long, he feels that he's maybe creatively finished with that character.
When did the reality set in for the writers that they're going to have to figure out how to make this transition, and how to get someone new, or promote someone else from the inside?
We started talking about it late last season. I would say, even though [Carell's] behavior was there there was quite a little bit of denial as well, so it wasn't really until we were at the very end that we started setting scenarios.
You can't tell me scenarios you're still considering, but what were scenarios that are absolutely not going to happen?
You mean his exits? Oscar [Nuñez] suggested he'd commit suicide, but we're not considering that. You know, so much is on the table right now.
I guess for a while we had been talking about firing him, and we were going to do it in a way that nobody would [think of] -- that when it finally comes to firing him, it's about money and it was a business mistake that he'd made. A small business mistake that had blown up. And all his behavior was excused, and everything over the years was excused when the money was right. But as soon as he's not the earner, he's out.
But that's not a possible scenario.
I don't think it's as much fun for the viewers.
Any McLean Stevenson [of 'M*A*S*H] scenarios where Dwight walks in and says there's been a car accident?
I'll tell you, everything's on the table, but that's not my favorite. I want to do something else.
So what's the overarching goal this season? Is it just everything leading up to Steve leaving or are there going to be other pockets of stories that are going to be in there?
There are a few. But I would say we're a little lighter this year than in past years. And we're going [with] a little more fun, episodic stuff, but what's there is [the story where] Dwight has bought the building. And that's proven really fertile. [I feel like] we've got some fun stuff. And then we explore Dwight and Angela for a little while. Not too long.
And Holly coming back too, right?
When are we first going to see Amy Adams come back?
You know I always do that, say Amy Adams when I mean Amy Ryan.
We've talked about bringing Amy Adams back, too.
When are we going to first see Amy Ryan this season? How many episodes will she be in?
It's an eight episode arc, though not necessarily consecutive episodes. It won't be the first group, it'll be later in the fall.
And it's basically going to be Jo Bennett bringing her back to help because Michael helped her out.
There are a few different scenarios of how she gets there. We always suspect Jo is doing it, Jo's behind it. There's another [scenario] where Jo is on jury duty for the Scranton Strangler.
Last season the show had ideas that started germinating and then faded away, like Jim being co-manager with Michael. In the writing room, when you guys are thinking of these threads, what happens? Do you think, "This is not working?" Why do you decide to drop them?
It's a variety of things. Entertainment value certainly, as a consideration. Jim as boss was not quite as fun as Jim as prankster. The actor [John Krasinski] and the writers took an honest look at what he was like. A new father, being promoted? It didn't seem right that he was going to f--- around like that [as a prankster].
And his hair was different.
Yeah, he rightfully took himself seriously. That's really maybe not the Jim we wanted to see.
Is it really purely the writers' room where you're thinking of this stuff ,or are you listening to critics or fans saying, "Hey, Jim's not funny anymore?"
We're aware of what you guys are writing [chuckles]. However, we can't let it... I don't think it's appropriate to let it rule the decision making. We need a responder of what's happening on set, certainly, and you guys are pretty astute so if you're having some observations, we're having similar observations.
Thanks for flattering us, Paul.
[Laughs] No, it's true.
I always wonder if it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Are we reacting to what you're writing and you're reacting to what we're writing, etc.?
When we do a show, we have to put it on, we can't react to it and then change it. And a lot of times there's so much discovery and it's such a collaboration. I've been working a long time and never worked on a collaboration like this. Not even, I can't even compare it to anything else. So that when you get to the final product, we're both looking at the same thing and adjusting. And we get that on, we have like four other shows that have been shot, very different levels of production. There isn't a way to go back quickly.
Mindy [Kaling] had mentioned Dwight might work as a new boss. How would you take Dwight, who's very much a character and expand him to the point where he can work as the boss of the office?
Well, you've seen a part of Dwight but you haven't seen the whole man, and with that, he's still gotta be able to do all the stuff he's doing. We can't lose Dwight for who he is. But that doesn't mean we've seen all of him. I don't believe that Dwight Schrute, his world [being what] it is, doesn't occasionally do something compassionate. And there are people he cares for. So we have not really had an interest, a use to show more of Dwight, and now we do.
Who internally would also make a good candidate to replace Mike?
Ed [Helms] and Craig [Robinson].
Craig would be interesting. I like the idea of Craig. Because nobody would expect it, nobody would think it was fair because they just brought him up from the warehouse. Have you talked to Craig about it?
So is it settled now, who's replacing Steve, and you're just not telling us?
Not at all. We have plans but we just need something settled. We have to plan for Jim, too. We adjust. Like I said it may take six episodes. Settled is shot to me.
How much are we going to see of Toby this year and what is Michael going to do to make his life miserable?
Michael is going to be sent into mandatory therapy counseling with Toby in the second episode
Oh like couples counseling?
Not couples counseling, Toby will be the counselor.