Replacing Michael Scott

NBC will soon be tasked with doing the impossible: Replacing one of TV’s funniest lead characters on one of TV’s funniest comedies.
Photo: NBC

OKLAHOMA CITY, March 31, 2011 – NBC will soon be tasked with doing the impossible: Replacing one of TV’s funniest lead characters on one of TV’s funniest comedies.

Steve Carell and Will Ferrell (NBC).

No single television comedy has ever tried to replace an anchor as heavy and as significant to the program’s success than that of Steve Carell’s Michael Scott character on NBC’s “The Office.”  

Well, that is until the Charlie Sheen debacle happened at “Two and a Half Men.” But does that really count?

“Two and a Half Men” is wildly successful, generates crazy amounts of money but couldn’t be more stale and unfunny. In the future, “Men” will be remembered as a successful series in terms of ratings and profitability, yet, right now, during it’s current run, “Men” is just one of those generic comedies.

Any slouchy comic actor with any sort of name recognition can essentially replace Charlie Sheen’s character on “Two and a Half Men,” and the show will continue to operate in the same classic manner of the sitcom-101 style it always has.

However, “The Office” is truly funny, sweet and has a sense of heart that most sitcoms with canned laughter lack. “The Office” also paved the way for the single camera, mocumentary style format that influenced the likes of “Parks and Recreation” and  “Modern Family.”  

The Office” ticks to a much more complicated set of gears than “Two and a Helf Men.” Michael Scott served as the spine of the Dunder Mifflin Scranton office. He’s been the gag man, the straight man, the buffoon, and the hero. “The Office’s” writers and producers were able to strike a chord with Michael, smack dab in the middle of compassion and contempt.

With regard to Sheen’s former role, any comedic actor  can hit a mark and deliver, as Sheen so infamously described, “stupid and unfunny jokes.”

The Scott role is weighty and multi-dimensional. Steve Carell winningly played the role like the warlock, adlibbing comedic genius that he is, better than any other lead funnyman in TV history.

As it is in sports, replacing a legendary coach is extremely difficult, and nobody wants to be the guy directly following a icon. It’s much better to replace the person that replaced the icon. Unfortunately, in television, you only get one shot.

Remember “News Radio?” After the death of Phil Hartman, the show continued with Jon Lovitz. Perhaps I should say, tried to continue with Lovitz. The experiment failed; the show didn’t last.

“Cheers” lost Shelly Long, but many say the show actually improved with the addition of Kirstie Alley. In a way, “Cheers” was lucky to lose Long when they did, when the show wasbogged down with a boring Sam and Diane love story. This is not too different from the (eventually) boring Jim and Pam relationship on “The Office.”

With the absence of the love yarn, Cheers grew from a Ted Danson-driven vehicle to a wonderfully intricate ensemble piece.

Two other NBC comedies, “Community” and “Parks and Recreation,” experienced much of the same growing pains. Eventually both moved from being the “Joel McHale” and “Amy Poehler” shows and evolved into two of the sharpest, smartest TV comedies.

From the beginning, “The Office” has always had a powerhouse supporting cast. The first few episodes, Michael suffered through some tonal issues. It was unclear to the audience if we were meant to despise him or empathize with and root for him. Once Scott’s character flaws and endearments were tweaked, the show soared as a funny, biting outfit of cubicle comedy goodness.

A few of the supporting office mates have been rumored as possible replacements for Scott’s branch manager position. Rainn Wilson (Dwight), Craig Robinson (Darryl) and Ed Helms (Andy) have all be mentioned as possible in-house promotions.

Among the outsiders mentioned in Internet speculation, Thomas Lennon (“Reno 911”), Upright Citizen Brigade vet Matt Walsh, Danny McBride (“Eastbound & Down”) and Rhys Darby (“Flight of The Conchords.”)

In a stroke of genius guest casting, Will Ferrell will begin a four-episode guest arc as corporate-sent stop gap boss, DeAngelo Vickers, April 14. Ferrell remarked to the press that he would be the full-time replacement for Carell, but his comment, which set the fans ablaze with glee, turned out to be just a cruel joke. So, with Ferrell out as the next boss, who’s left?

Will Arnett and the creator of the original BBC version of “The Office,” Ricky Gervais, will both appear in guest roles in the April 28 “Office” finale. Gervais previously denied having any interest in doing a fulltime job on a network comedy. He’s collecting far too much money from the international versions of his brainchild; why would he ever want to work again?

Don’t get your hopes up about Will Arnett, either. He just signed on to co-star in another NBC sitcom with Christina Applegate and Maya Rudoplh. “Saturday Night Live” boss, Lorne Michaels, will serve as the executive producer for that project. 

“The Office” has the luxury of being regarded as a one of TV’s top comedies, and much like the Yankees or the Lakers, the show could probably snag whomever they want to fill the Scott role.

“Two and a Half Men,” on the other hand, offers a role in Charlie, which will probably draw a big paycheck (not as large as Sheen’s), but doesn’t require major comedy chops. But, to make the usual hacky jokes tolerable, it’ll take a heavy hitter to, as Sheen puts it, “magically converting tin cans into pure gold.”

In a perfect world, “The Office” would close its doors with the simultaneous exit of its star player, Steve Carell. But since NBC has re-upped the comedy for an additional two seasons, the network has their work cut out for them to find the perfect replacement; it’s going to be hard. That’s what she said.

Read more of Craig’s work at The TV DEN in the Communities at the Washington Times. Follow Craig Sanger on Twitter.

-cl-  4/6/11


This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Craig Sanger

A broadcast journalism graduate of University of Central Oklahoma, Craig Sanger is film critic for Oklahoma City FOX affiliate KOKH-TV, morning radio host on KATT-FM, and staff writer at distinctly Oklahoma Magazine. 

Craig is a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

Follow Craig on Twitter.

Contact Craig Sanger

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