The hit show “The Office” has taken some hits this year. But it’s still one of NBC’s top properties — thanks in part to Westport’s Paul Lieberstein.
The 1985 Staples grad is an “Office” writer and producer. He also plays Toby Flenderson.
He doesn’t do many interviews. But yesterday he sat with New York Magazine’s online “Vulture” website, and talked. And talked, and talked.
Among his comments, posted today:
James Spader’s departure wasn’t entirely unforeseen.
“We always kind of thought of this as a transition year,” Lieberstein says, explaining that a one-year gig at Dunder-Mifflin “was what we had talked to [Spader] about when” negotiations for him to join the show began.
“It was just kind of fun, living in the moment and just enjoying his presence, and not really planning what it was going to be like in seasons to come,” he adds.
Some critics have suggested Spader’s character didn’t seem to fit well into the Office universe, but Lieberstein says he didn’t have any trouble working him into the show. “He was this kind of bizarre, fascinating character who could create his own reality,” he says. “When he was in the show, I never really questioned why he was in. I thought we found a lot of interesting things to play with him; as his life changed, opened up, we learned about his marriage, his divorce. And I loved his relationship with Andy, too.”
California’s final appearance will be in the show’s season finale, and his exit will be a definitive departure, Lieberstein says.
Missed having one, Michael Scott-like character at the center of the office? The producers do, too.
Post-Steve Carell, The Office this season has boasted what Lieberstein calls a “rotating center. We always had a center, but it wasn’t a single one for the whole year.” So for some episodes, Andy was out front; in others, Robert California.
Most recently, the show has been focused on the relationship between Jim and Dwight as they work together in Florida, as well as on new foil Nellie (Catherine Tate). Lieberstein says the shifting focus was intentional (“We knew we were going to do it,” he says), but hints that next season, there might be a switch back to how things were during the bulk of the show’s run.
“I have a romantic feeling for the simplicity of the single-manager structure,” he says. “Next year might see a return to it.” Not surprisingly, Lieberstein wouldn’t elaborate further, except to say that there almost certainly won’t be multiple layers of management at the Scranton office.
While NBC hasn’t officially renewed The Office next season, Lieberstein is confident the show has another season in it — even if some key cast members aren’t back.
“I see another year,” he says. “A full year, and a great year. After that, it’s for Greg [Daniels] and NBC to decide.”
Lieberstein declined to discuss the previously reported and ongoing negotiations between NBC and key cast members and writers, except to acknowledge they’re taking place. “There are negotiations going on, but I don’t think they feel different than other shows that have negotiations in their later years,” he says. “I’m optimistic.”
Would Lieberstein like to know in advance if next season is the last for The Office? “Well, it’s not like we’re Lost, or one of those shows where you kill people off or something,” he laughs. “But we do do these season-long arcs. And there’s a lot of stuff we’ve talked about that we could do if it were the last season. But again, that’s not my call.”
(To read the entire interview, click here.)