Why Steve Carell Leaving The Office Doesn't Matter
Steve Carell is a national treasure. OK, sure, perhaps I'm exaggerating a bit when I write that. The point is, no one is attempting to say that Carell isn't talented or that Michael Scott won't be missed when he leaves The Office after this season. I'm just trying to make the point, amid all the doom and gloom being spread online about the future of The Office, that Carell's departure doesn't matter as far as the success of the show is concerned.
Every successful comedy television series, even an ensemble show like The Office, has a moral center that the general audience relates with. What separates The Office from other comedies is that the lead isn't the moral center. The general audience does not relate with Michael Scott. Now, that's not to say that nobody relates to Michael -- I'm sure there's a socially awkward, improv loving, middle manager out there, somewhere, who tunes in every week because he and Scott are soul mates. (Just like there are people out there -- yes, I've met a couple -- who think that the character that Stephen Colbert plays on TV actually makes a lot of sense.) Watch the first season again: Scott had to be toned down because he bordered on unlikable -- season one (fake) hair plugs and all.
No, the only character that The Office could not afford to lose is John Krasinski's Jim Halpert. Being a weirdo isn't necessarily funny; the normal human reaction to a weirdo is what's funny. Without Jim, the entire Scranton branch becomes a weirdo factory.
It's simple really: How can one identify what is absurd when everyone is absurd? With Scott out of the picture, that's just one less weirdo to deal with. Halpert, like it or not, is the character that most viewers relate with (which isn't to say he's our favorite character, just the most relatable) -- it's now even scientific fact, apparently.
Don't think I'm onto something here? Well there's always history to back me up. Many comedy series have lost a main character and continued on with little to no effect on quality and ratings. Look at Cheers: Shelly Long left the show after its fifth season and Cheers chugged along for six more with Kirstie Alley as the female lead. After the eleventh season, most of the cast agreed to return, but Ted Danson did not. The producers made the right choice to pull the plug because without Sam Malone, the character everyone related with, the show was doomed.
Oh, you might say, "Look at Frasier, he continued on with great success." This is true, but try watching an episode of Cheers back-to-back with an episode of Frasier. It's almost not even the same character. The character of Frasier Crane was reigned in to make him the relatable center of the show. Frasier didn't even pair its lead with a sleezeball brother -- something which may have only enhanced Frasier's quirkiness -- but, instead, a brother that's more uppity than Frasier. Basically, Niles Crane on Frasier was Frasier Crane on Cheers.
"But what about Phil Hartman on News Radio? He wasn't the relatable character on the show and the show nosedived after his death!" This is true. But shows like News Radio and _Arrested Development _were the kind of oddball shows that didn't have a clear-cut moral center -- hence the unfortunate ratings for each. (It might also explain why Community hasn't struck a chord with audiences.) No matter how brilliant each show was, leads like Dave Nelson and Michael Bluth weren't exactly characters that were easy to latch on to.
(Now, as far as Hartman, I think there are two other reasons why News Radio tanked: Hartman was (A) the likable antagonist on the show, much like Dwight Schrute, which is rare, and (B) his murder left a really bad taste in people's mouths -- even though Hartman was replaced by his good friend Jon Lovitz. The audience rejected it because New Radio became too sad to watch; it reminded them of Hartman.)
When you get right down to it, Michael Scott leaving The Office would be on par with Kramer leaving Seinfeld. Yes, we will miss both of them, but we will get over their loss. I mean, put it this way, if Michael Scott were getting his own show where it centered on him, his improv career and the women he was interested in, the show would fail miserably. How do I know? Because I just described the premise of Joey. You scoff, but Tribbiani was absolutely loved before Friends ended -- not so much after. Do you know who could carry a spinoff show? Jim Halpert. I mean, he pretty much did just that at the beginning of season three when he moved to Stanford, CT. Halpert's presence made the other characters (Ed Helms' Andy, Rashida Jones' Karen) interesting right from their first appearances.
Look, I will miss Michael Scott. We all will. But The Office will be just fine without him. His loss will not kill the show; his replacement could kill the show -- a Scott clone would be a disaster; a change of pace, like Idris Elba's Charles Miner, would be ideal -- but that's a topic for another day. For now, though, let's all just be happy that Jim Halpert isn't taking his victory lap around the cubicles of Dunder-Mifflin.