Michael Scott (Steve Carell) bids farewell to his employees in this week's episode of "The Office" (9 p.m. EDT Thursday, April 28, NBC), probably in overly dramatic fashion, which is Michael's style. That's likely to include individual good-byes to the show's myriad characters.
"Without telling you exactly what the episode is, that's what Michael wants (to do)," said executive producer Paul Lieberstein, who also plays human-resources director Toby Flenderson.
And, yes, the episode is expected to include a farewell to Toby, Michael's nemesis, who spent much of the season away on jury duty (in the case of "the Scranton strangler"). Toby's call to jury duty allowed for the return of interim HR director Holly (Amy Ryan), who is the reason Michael is moving on.
In a surprisingly sweet episode last month, Michael proposed marriage to Holly in his own inimitable way: Getting all the Dunder Mifflin employees to hold candles and bear witness to his proposal. Naturally, the candles set off the fire alarm and sprinklers.
"I felt that Michael should propose in the style of Michael," Lieberstein said in a phone interview earlier this month. "It wasn't about making him into some mature man who wants to get down on one knee in the privacy of his own home. It was grand Michael style, a larger-than-life proposal with a woman who wants that, who that's not lost on, and he's found that in Holly. And I thought he would want the office (staff) involved."
Plotting Michael's exit has been in the works for a year since Carell announced his intention to leave the sitcom that made him famous.
"It was a year's worth of planning and bringing back Holly and moving his character into a place where he could leave and could possibly be happy," Lieberstein said. "We saw the slow breakdown of Michael's fantasy life being replaced by a life he could actually take a look at and wouldn't be horrified by, something he could let his conscious mind see.
"In terms of his actual exit, we wanted to give him a realistic exit, what it's like to have a last day, how lame that is in some ways. It's not an episode with dramatic story moves other than the biggest story move we've ever had with Michael leaving. It feels like the last day of someone who worked at a company for 19 years."
Lieberstein said there's no Dunder Mifflin branch office in Colorado for Michael to transfer to and viewers won't really get a sense of what his professional life will be like after he leaves Scranton, Pa. Lieberstein leaves open the possibility of getting Carell back for a guest appearance, but it doesn't sound like anyone is planning on such a return.
"If we're lucky enough to get him back for an episode at some point, that would be fun," Lieberstein said. "Certainly we would love to check in with him after a while to see what his life is like."
(Thursday's "Office" episode will run 50 minutes, followed by a 40-minute "Parks and Recreation" episode at 9:50 p.m. and "30 Rock" with its usual half-hour at 10:30 p.m.)
Deangelo Vickers, a character played by Will Ferrell, has already been introduced as a potential successor to Michael Scott, and Lieberstein advised viewers not to jump to conclusions about Vickers.
"He's a manager who corporate sent up who nobody really knows and he has a lot of strong opinions that slowly seem to come out over the course of four episodes," Lieberstein said. "He reveals himself slowly. It's better not to have preconceived notions about him."
Although Ferrell's film career has seen more prosperous days, it's unlikely that he'd agree to a weekly network series (besides, his four-episode run ends before the season finale). And Ferrell's character isn't the only one in the running for Michael's job. The show's May 19 one-hour season finale will also include guest stars Will Arnett (committed to an NBC pilot), Ricky Gervais (has said he doesn't want to do the show on a regular basis) and Ray Romano (committed to TNT's "Men of a Certain Age").
But two more names were announced for the season finale earlier this month and they seem like the most likely to be in serious contention for a series regular role next fall: James Spader ("Boston Legal") and British actress Catherine Tate ("Doctor Who").
Will viewers learn the identity of the new "Office" boss by the end of the season finale?
"Not saying," is all Lieberstein would offer.
(Follow TV writer Rob Owen on Twitter or Facebook under RobOwenTV. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)