Start the betting pools now: Who gets fired from Dunder Mifflin in an upcoming episode? Phyllis, for drunkenly dozing at her desk? Accountant Kevin, for spilling Dr. Pepper on important tax documents? Perhaps Dwight blows a major sales opp by getting arrested?
Viewers will have to wait until Episode 15 of The Office on February 14th to find out. The pink-slipping is one of the many surprises in store as the NBC comedy series, in its ninth season, moves toward its one-hour finale in May.
At a TCA press conference on Wednesday, executive producer Greg Daniels revealed that the employee's dismissal won't be pretty. "There's violence," he teased. "OK, not violence, but drama." By the way, that drama is unlikely to involve Steve Carell, who, according to Daniels, has no plans to return for one last hoorah.
Daniels, who originally developed The Office from the U.K. version, and his tight-lipped cast revealed a few other details about the final episodes. The secondary characters will have more plot lines. B.J. Novak and Mindy Kaling will be back for the finale and possibly another episode, too. Also, that mysterious documentary crew that's been following the characters around since the beginning? "We'll start to turn the cameras on them," Daniels said.
The Office writers will also dig out a few ideas from the vault that could only be executed, as Daniels explained, in the show's final hours. "These are the kind of ideas that make you go, 'Well, that's really cool, but how do you come back from that?'"
Despite plenty of options, the series conclusion, which will be its 200th episode, is still up for grabs. "We've written up til episode 18," Daniels said.
The stars aren't worried. Rainn Wilson, who plays the eccentric Dwight Schrute, upholder of Pennsylvania Dutch traditions, said that "the miracle of The Office is that these writers are always coming up with new and interesting stuff for Dwight."
For two of the show's newest arrivals, the end came too soon. "It's a really fun set in general," said Clark Duke, whose character was introduced as a Dwight 2.0. at the start of this season. "Everyone's like a family . . . but I'll miss the hot snacks from catering the most."
Right away, Duke became buddies with the other newbie, Jake Lacy, who's been stoking this season's "will they or won't they" flirtation with receptionist Erin Hannon (Ellie Kemper). When asked if his character would be sweeping Erin off her feet any time soon, Lacy played coy but said that he feels the pressure, given how passionately the audience rooted for the slow-building romance between John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer.
"Jim and Pam took four or five seasons to develop," Lacy said. "This is an audience that will hang on one look." And to top it off, Lacy noted, "I'm the underdog."
Lacy and Duke said that unlike other TV shows that shall remain nameless, The Office is not for slacker actors. "On a technical level, it shoots differently," Duke said. "At least two cameras are going at all times, catching your every movement." In other words, if you're going to space out on the job, it has to be professional, potentially award-winning goofing off.
The set, which was open to press for the afternoon, at least makes for a convincing backdrop. Dusty motivational posters hang on the wall. Plants starved for natural light flank the desks.
"It's not a glitzy place," Fischer said, adding that she has to remind herself that she and her fellow cast members are regarded as celebrities. "We still see each other through the eyes of the first season."
For John Krasinski, The Office was flexible enough to give time off while he acted in and directed such movies as Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. But he never took it for granted: "I've felt more honored to be part of this show than anything else I've done."