Scoop! The Office's Big Goodbye Is Sooner Than You Think

Just when you thought you’d heard everything about The Office‘s farewell storyline for Steve Carell (and thus Michael Scott), this bit of news comes bounding in: Carell’s final appearance on the beloved NBC comedy will air well before this season itself ends.

“Steve is leaving earlier than the [season finale],” reveals executive producer Greg Daniels, who expects to pen Carell’s swan song himself. Specifically, he says, “The big ‘Goodbye, Steve’ thing will be before [May] sweeps.”

Given the timing of Carell’s exit, what will the final weeks of this season then be about? “Our basic plan,” Daniels says, “is to see the jockeying and interviewing [for Michael’s job], and not have that happen off-camera and suddenly present America with the choice. We’d rather play out the stories of the various characters who want that seat, and show them fight for it.”

“It’s kind of a fun situation,” Daniels says, “and the chaos is creatively exciting.” As longtime Office viewers can attest, “Whenever something with big stakes happens, it leads to good episodes — and we will have a lot of significant things happening.”

On hand to select Michael’s successor will be Kathy Bates, reprising her role of Jo Bennett, the country-fried CEO of Dunder-Mifflin’s parent company, Sabre. (Bates already has completed filming the first season of NBC’s Harry’s Law, which debuts January 17.) “We’re going to play out the whole [replacement] process in a realistic way,” says Daniels. “And it’s always great to have Kathy here.”

The outcome of the interview process will feed the season finale, which is tentatively set to run an hour. The extra time may very well be needed to showcase not just the reveal of the new boss but the various employees’ reactions to whomever he or she is. “They’re all different people with strong personalities,” Daniels notes, “so they each have a lot invested in who’s their new boss.”

Which Dunder-Mifflin drone do you think will — or should — replace the irreplaceable Michael Scott?