The Office officially closed its doors in 2013, but the unofficial series finale of the hit NBC comedy aired 10 years ago, on April 28, 2011, with the two-part episode "Goodbye Michael." As the title implies, that's when the show bid farewell to Michael Scott — the bumbling, awkward Dunder Mifflin manager played to perfection by Steve Carell. And The Office cast and crew were all too aware that the episode marked an ending for the series, even though it continued on for two additional years with different actors — including James Spader and Catherine Tate — taking over his job.
"It was like, 'Wow, the show's over, and now we're going to do another show without Steve,'" fan favorite Oscar Nunez tells Yahoo Entertainment. "Someone's going to come in and be the boss. The Office was over: Steve left, and now it's another show. It was fun, meeting those people was great, but when Steve left, it was very sad" (Watch our video interview above.)
It's not like Carell left the series without providing a two-week notice. Office showrunner Greg Daniels says that the actor made it clear he'd be moving on when his contract expired at the end of Season 7. "He had told us for a long time that he was going to leave," Daniels notes. Interestingly, a recent behind-the-scenes book about The Office reveals that NBC didn't make much of an effort to convince Carell to stay, which angered his colleagues. The actor eventually returned one last time for a cameo appearance in the actual series finale, which aired on May 16, 2013.
Carell's early decision did give the writers plenty of time to plot an appropriate exit. Rather than wait until the end of Season 7 for his farewell, it was decided that Michael would leave Dunder Mifflin's Scranton office with four episodes left to go. One rumored storyline was that he'd permanently depart after being fired, but Daniels — who wrote the episode — doesn't remember that option being on the table. "That seems like a weird exit for a guy who had given so much wonderful stuff to the audience and the show," he says, laughing.
Instead, Michael leaves for love, moving to Colorado to be with his fiancée, Holly Flax, played by Amy Ryan. In classic Michael Scott fashion, though, he risks bungling his farewell by pretending he isn't saying farewell, telling everyone it's his penultimate day, when it's actually his last day. He gets away with the ruse at first, but as the clock ticks closer to his exit, his resolve starts to falter — especially with Pam (Jenna Fischer) out of the office. Ultimately, it's Jim (John Krasinski) who helps him leave gracefully, tearfully calling him, "the best boss I ever had."
Apparently, tears were flowing throughout that episode. "People were crying all over the place," Nunez remembers. "It was very emotional." Eventually, Daniels had to step in and tell the cast to keep a stiff upper lip. "The hardest part was just saying to the actors, 'This is a comedy show, you can't cry in every scene with Steve! Try to care a little bit less.'"
At least Carell's Anchorman co-star Will Ferrell was on hand to try and provide some laughs. The actor was brought on for a four-episode arc as Michael's replacement, Deangelo Vickers, but he demonstrated his unfitness for the position right away — chowing down on his predecessor's goodbye cake while everyone looks on, shocked. According to Nunez, that shock was real. "Will was always doing crazy stuff, so that was probably improvised, knowing him."
Naturally, Carell didn't skip his actual farewell party, which followed the end of production of "Goodbye, Michael." Kate Flannery says that he showed up with gifts for the entire team. "When Steve left The Office, he gave everybody a Rolex watch," she says, gesturing to the timepiece on her wrist. "I still wear it. It reminds of me that amazing experience."
Nunez also got a watch... but he didn't keep the present that Michael gave to his alter ego. As a parting gift, Michael gives Oscar a freaky-looking scarecrow doll that he made himself. "It looks like it was made by a 2-year-old monkey on a farm," he later jokes to the camera. "And he just accepted it!" That's a scene that many fans have ranked as one of their all-time favorites, and Daniels admits to adoring it as well. "I don't know where that doll is," he says, wistfully. "I wish I had it."
At last, the truth of its whereabouts can be told. "I left it at the office," Nunez admits of Michael's scarecrow gift. "I took a belt and some shoes, I think. I didn't have anything like that on my desk, except for a real picture of myself and my dog, which I took with me because I brought those with me!"
The Office is currently streaming on Peacock.
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