One of the keys to show business is knowing when to step out of the spotlight as what once was a roar of applause and a standing ovation from the audience dwindles to scattered uncomfortable coughs and squeaking chairs. NBC's The Office is well into its downward trajectory and not too far from holding cast reunion variety shows at Indian casinos.
The latest blow to the series—which has been getting hit with black eyes since Steve Carell's exit last season—is that showrunner and actor Paul Lieberstein (he plays Toby) is leaving his duties as series boss to concentrate on the rumored and no-doubt disastrous Dwight Schrute spin-off, reports Deadline Hollywood. Lieberstein has served as a producer since the series' get-go, took over showrunning duties in Season 5, and is one of a handful of writer-actors on the program.
Lieberstein's exit follows the recent departure of James Spader. It's another one for the ever-growing pile, considering the probable upcoming exit of co-executive-producer-writer-actor Mindy Kaling, who has a new pilot in contention that she created and stars in. Plus, if the Dwight Schrute spin-off somehow does get off the ground, Rainn Wilson would also leave the series. The Office is very close to becoming The Stanley Show (which I'd totally watch, btw) unless his hip-hop career takes off and he leaves too.
Even with all this upheaval, The Office WILL be back because... what else is NBC gonna do? It's still NBC's top-rated comedy, anchoring the network's fading Thursday comedy block and serving as a flagship program for a network that's really hurting. Plus, now there are reports that John Krasinski and Ed Helms are close to signing on for Season 9, though the contracts will be riddled with clauses that allow them to continue to focus on their movie careers. So expect Jim to take odd extended vacations without Pam, and Andy to go on tour opening for Matchbox 20.
As NBC continues its transition to the Comcast regime, promising new comedies will need to bubble up to knock the old guys off. NBC has 14 comedy pilots in development, so it's looking to regain traction in an area it once dominated. From a quality standpoint, The Office should empty out the building right now. But from a business standpoint, NBC should milk one last painful season out of the show to help its new programs grow.
What do you think NBC should do with The Office?
– Cancel it after this season. It's done!
– Give it one more year to say its goodbyes. It's earned at least that much.
– Let it go on! New blood will revitalize it!
Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom