The moment we learned Steve Carell was leaving The Office at the end of this season, we all imagined the kind of tearful season finale you usually get when a show goes off the air: hugs, goodbyes, maybe a bittersweet finale for poor beleaguered Michael Scott. But as it turns out that farewell is going to happen a lot sooner than any of us assumed; talking to Vulture, show-runner (and player of Toby) Paul Lieberstein said Michael will be leaving Dunder Mifflin about a month before the season finale, leaving time for us to see how the office moves on without him, and how his successor fills his shoes:

"Steve will have a number of episodes that dramatize and lead up to Steve leaving. Then we'll continue on for about four more episodes, and the spring will prove to be not about an actor leaving, but what happens in an office when a manager leaves and the chaos ensues and people vie for the job and are uncertain about their future."

The idea is to not center the entire rest of the season around a finale, but put some focus on the rest of the characters. And yet they're still not revealing when we'll find out who Michael's replacement will be, only admitting that there will be some people interviewing for the job from outside the office-- cue guest stars!-- and that Kelly, having gone through executive training over the summer, will definitely be vying for it. Oh, and despite the fact that everyone's sad about Carell leaving, they're no longer panicking:

"This time last year there was probably a lot of dread. But right now there's a lot of excitement. We're having the kinds of conversations we had in seasons one and two about, 'What is the show?' It feels like we ... can really influence the show in a way we couldn't last year. It feels really cool."

Everyone has their favorite candidates for the new Regional Manager at Dunder Mifflin-- I'd love to witness Darryl's laid-back reign of terror--but I'm kind of enjoying having no idea where they're headed with it. When new episodes of The Office start back up next week I imagine we'll see Michael's departure start up in full force, but right now, it seems like anyone-- even flaky, wonderful Kelly-- could become Regional Manager. It's a mystery I'm really enjoying.

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