The Office Without Steve Carell

For seven years, The Office has been the biggest scripted show on NBC, much of it thanks to the comedic talents of Steve Carell.

stroudsburg native danny chun at dunder mifflin/sabre scranton

stroudsburg native danny chun at dunder mifflin/sabre scranton

Those days are over, as Carell has left to focus on his movie career. Now the show has to prove it’s still one of the funniest on TV without its funniest character.

That’s where Danny Chun comes in. The 31-year-old Stroudsburg native and Stroudsburg High School grad is a writer and executive producer on The Office and is now charged with keeping the show successful on a network starving for hits.

Before the season started Thursday, Chun talked this week about the void left at the show, how it will look without Carell and securing Jesse Pinkman to deliver crystal meth to Creed at the Emmys:

PopRox: It’s your third year with The Office, are you excited for the premiere?
Danny Chun: It’s always a little weird with the premiere. We’ve been working on the show for months, we’re working on episode 8 or 9 right now (Tuesday). The premiere is kind of behind us at this point. But I can say we’re really interested to hear people’s reactions to the premiere.

PR: How hard has it been to put this season together without Carell?
DC: It’s been a learning process. It’s a lot like when you have a TV pilot and you have an idea for what you think will work. Then you have to fine-tune it once it’s on the screen when you see what works and what doesn’t. There are a lot of people being asked to bring new things to the table this year. With James Spader part of our cast now, there have been a lot of adjustments on the fly. But I’m still really confident there are a lot of great stories to tell with this show and this cast. It’s been exciting that way. I hope everyone that watches feels the same way.

adios

adios

PR: How has the cast been without Carell?
DC: The cast has really been up to the challenge. There’s a giant void that Steve’s absence has left us with. But the actors are really excited about it. Steve did a lot of the heavy comedy lifting and a lot of the emotional lifting. (His departure has) given our actors a chance to stretch their legs in both areas. We have really talented actors who love to be able to take that on.

PR: When it comes to writing episodes, how has this season gone compared to other years?
DC: It was tricky at first. We had a system we really liked, having Michael at the center of every episode. This year, it’s been a rethinking of the show and letting a lot of other people come to the center of it. We’re not looking to swap someone in and have them do the same things Michael Scott has been doing. We can focus on Jim and Pam a lot more, or Dwight, or Andy … or even James Spader. You saw in the finale he had such a distinct energy, it’s been a lot of fun to work with someone who’s such an undiscovered comedy commodity. It’s cool for us to turn this great actor into a comedy star.

PR: Was Spader considered a candidate to replace Steve Carell when he guest-starred on last season’s finale?
DC: I don’t think we had anybody coming in we weren’t interested in. Well, maybe not Warren Buffett. (The season finale featured characters played by Spader, Ricky Gervais, Ray Romano, Jim Carrey, Will Arnett and Catherine Tate applying to take Michael Scott’s job.) But that’s why we didn’t go with Matt Damon or George Clooney, those guys wouldn’t have been part of the story we were telling in the future. In that episode we were talking about replacing Michael Scott, but everyone who watches the show knows we’re also replacing Steve Carell. You can’t bring in no-names to do that, and you can’t bring in guys you can’t get either. We had to really bring in people who fit that criteria who could conceivably be the new star of “The Office” and creatively work as a Michael Scott replacement.

one thursday night nbc comedy was enough for damon

one thursday night nbc comedy was enough for damon

PR: Did you guys try to get Matt Damon or George Clooney?
DC: There were tons of different ideas that came up in the room. Even though a lot of people called what we did “stunt casting,” we thought they were the right level of people who would be able to replace Steve and Michael Scott at the same time. We weren’t really interested in bringing in LeBron James or just bringing in an actor we knew would never do it. We didn’t want it to be an exercise in cameos.

PR: Was there anyone the show contacted to replace Carell that turned you down?
DC: Certainly there were some people who couldn’t do it. Something like, they may have already taken roles that precluded them from (taking the job on The Office). But I can’t remember anyone who just straight out told us they weren’t interested. It seemed like (any actors the show may have approached) wanted to do it, but there were actual practical reasons they might not have been able to.

PR: On the original press release announcing Spader coming aboard, it says he will almost immediately be promoted out of the Scranton office. Does that mean the show is going to be looking for another head of the Scranton branch?
DC: It’s going to be clear in the very first episode of the season what we’re doing. We’re not rehashing the same story line. It will be very clear.

PR: How quick does Carell come back for a reunion episode, November sweeps or February sweeps?
DC: (Laughs) Even if I knew, I couldn’t say anything. There’s certainly been talk of it, but nothing formal. He’s pretty happy to have the free time of not having a TV job, and we’re excited about re-inventing the show. It’s not like the first thing we thought of was getting him back for an episode.

let's see how this plays out

let's see how this plays out

PR: Did anyone at the show doubt whether Spader could be funny? He doesn’t have a lot of comedy experience on his resume.
DC: I think we just knew he’s an amazing actor. Making him funny? A lot of that is up to us (the writers), to write things that work for him. He has the talent to do it if we write the right stuff for him.

PR: Did you have anything to do with the Emmy spoof that featured crossover appearances from shows like “Breaking Bad,” “Parks and Recreation,” “The Voice” and “Two and a Half Men”?
DC: Yeah! We wrote and produced it. It was fun. We’re not a show like “30 Rock” that has a lot of cameos or that sort of thing, so it was nice to have an excuse to break our own rules. Logistically it was hard to put together. Everyone has different schedules, and it’s not just the actors. You have to make sure their shows are OK with it, and their networks are OK with it. That part is very time-consuming. But yeah, we were scouring the Internet to see what people’s reaction was to it. I think people really liked it.

(A smaller version of this interview will appear in Sunday’s PopRox column in the paper.)

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