Paul Lieberstein, executive producer and head writer of ‘The Office‘ – he also plays frequent Michael Scott torture victim Toby Flenderson – hasn’t slept well since he learned Steve Carell wanted off NBC’s hit series. “When I think about Steve leaving, I have nightmares,” he told Fancast at the network’s TCA Press Tour party in Los Angeles Friday. In the wake of NBC’s confirmation last week that the show will continue after Carell’s depature, Lieberstein spoke to us about the future of the show without Michael Scott, why he thinks internal promotion seems “like the the most likely thing that Dunder Mifflin would consider,” and where he’d like to take Michael on his last day.
How long have you known about Steve leaving and how long have you been planning the show without him?
Since the end of last season.
What’s the timeline for his departure?
We’re taking the fall to do all the fun stuff we wanted to do with Steve that we haven’t done yet. In the spring we’ll begin an arc that will lead to him leaving.
Who have you been eying for the new role?
I have a lot of different things that I want to do. It goes back and forth. We haven’t settled exactly who will take over, but we have a good idea.
Would you consider an internal promotion?
I think that’s the most likely thing that Dunder Mifflin would consider. They’d take a look at that and see how that works.
If you did, that means Dunder Mifflin would have extra head count to add another salesman, right?
There would be room for another salesman. There are big names out there that I like. I like Rhys Darby. Danny McBride is super funny.
Would Danny have to give up his HBO show? [Eastbound and Down.]
We could probably do it with his HBO show. We’ve been having discussions.
What are your fears about what this means for the future of the show?
When I think about somebody saying, ‘You can do a show that stars Ed Helms and Rainn Wilson and John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer,’ I feel pretty good about that. I feel like I can take any one of those guys and make them the star of the show.
Watch Michael’s Best Moments:
Will whoever winds up taking over also physically take over Michael’s office? Or will there be a new office?
Someone’s going to take it. I don’t know if you saw the episode where Dwight thought he had it and immediately started painting the office black…but we haven’t thought about how it will be designed.
What’s Toby’s reaction to his tormentor being gone?
I don’t know! [Laughs.]
What does that mean for Toby if he has no one torturing him?
Oh my God! Am I out of a job? Nobody’s going to hate me anymore! I don’t know what to do. We’ll see. In the meantime, there’s a fun storyline where Michael is made to do mandatory therapy style counseling with Toby.
With Steve leaving, is Jim going to become more of a Michael?
Yeah, we’ve done episodes where he really finds himself playing out the Michael role. There was that Survivor Day episode. I don’t think that’s where Jim sees himself, and I don’t think that’s where we’re going to go.
How much longer do you see the show going on for?
I think we could go a few more years.
A few like three? A few like five?
I don’t know. We’re going to see a new ‘Office’ in season eight, so talk to me in the middle of season eight. ‘ER’ found themselves with a show that worked and survived. I was glad because I was a fan. After [George] Clooney left I continued to be a fan of the show. We’re gonna do it. It’ll be fun.
Are there going to be any more location shoots like Niagra Falls?
It’d be a shame to send Michael off without going to Scranton.
So actually going to Scranton? [Although set in Scranton, Pennsylvania, 'The Office' shoots in Van Nuys, California]
We’ve talked about it. I haven’t talked to Steve about it, but we have a story idea.