Written By February/March 2012 : Page 56

Saying Goodbye to Michael Greg Daniels was happy to be offered the opportunity to write Steve Carell’s final epi-sode on The Office. Then he became alarmed. The happy part is under-standable: Daniels adapted the NBC mockumentary from its British original. As execu-tive producer and showrun-ner, he shepherded Carell’s character, Michael Scott, for six seasons. In the seventh, he relinquished the show-running to Paul Lieberstein, who also plays Michael’s nebbishy nemesis Toby. When Carell decided not to re-up his contract after Season 7, Lieberstein asked Dan-iels to write him off. “I identified with that character a lot,” Daniels con-fides. As a regional boss at Dunder Mifflin paper dis-tribution company, Michael Scott is as boorish as he is lacking self-awareness. “Among all the writing staff, Steve’s my age. For the majority of the show, I was the boss of the writing staff, and they were all smart people who were probably constantly looking at invisible cam-eras and rolling their eyes at things I would say to them,” such as references to 1980s Saturday Night Live skits. In Michael’s defense, “The things that he did that were obnoxious were inadvertent, more a lack of skill at being cool, rather than a lack of desire,” says Daniels. “His heart was in the right place.” Nevertheless, the writers knew they wanted him to mature before he left. In Season 5, Amy Ryan’s portrayal of Holly, Michael’s romantic interest, helped matters. Daniels notes that writer Jen Celotta sensed immediately that Holly would be the key to Michael’s happy ending. “When Amy agreed to come back [in season seven], that helped shape what was going to happen.” The writers plotted out Michael’s arc over the season. Holly would return, they’d have some turbulence on their way to reconciling, they’d get engaged, and decide to move together to Colorado. That’s when Daniels grew alarmed. All the big events were being taken by other episodes before his. “I remem-ber [writer and costar] B.J. Novak saying, as we were breaking stories, ‘You need to do very little in this last episode.’ At the time I doubted his motives; I thought he was grabbing all the good moments for other scripts.” All that was left for Michael to do was say goodbye to 17 characters before leaving. Daniels recalls worrying, “God, where’s the structure in that?” He began with a concept provided by Carell himself. 56 • WG AW Written B y FEBRU AR Y/MARCH 20 12 Michael tells everyone he’s leaving the next day, but he’s actually boarding a plane for Colorado that evening. “Steve had the idea to have the other characters not know he was saying goodbye, which was a great instinct.” Daniels first came up with the idea of Michael burst-ing into tears in the break room for no apparent reason. He worked backward from there. “There’s the part where it doesn’t hit him yet. Then there’s the part where it hits him and he panics. I initially felt that, when he panics, maybe he should break up with Holly. But the ‘Garage Sale’ episode has him engaged already. I was like, ‘Dam-mit, he’s not going to break up with Holly, that’s not believable.’” Instead, Michael decides not to move and calls Holly to tell her. “Then the moment he hears her voice, he calms down and knows what he’s going to do.” Another piece fell into place. The boss says his secret goodbyes in classic Michael fashion: “Some people he needs to give advice to, oth-ers he has one more classic interaction with, some he inadvertently insults.” He hands Oscar a hideous little doll that he made. Oscar graciously accepts it. Privately, Michael laughs his ass off that Oscar believed he had worked hard to make that piece of crap. “He has the low-est opinion of me!” It’s one of Daniel’s favorite scenes in the episode. “Even though Oscar’s maybe the smart-est guy in the office, Michael has some self-knowledge there,” he says. Daniels also liked it because “to have the guy crack himself up so hard right in the middle of all the sad goodbyes was good for the tone.” So was a Skype call with Toby’s brother Rory in Boul-der, who’s excited to bring Michael a welcome basket after he lands. Rory was played by Paul Lieberstein’s brother Warren, a former producer on the show; they’re both Daniels’ brothers-in-law. “I always knew we’d use him for something,” says Daniels. What better than Mi-chael’s future tormentor? His first instinct was to make Rory a twin, but “that was too Bugs Bunny.” He added Jim’s discovery of Michael’s ruse, ratch-eted up the emotion by having Pam out of the office so Michael couldn’t say goodbye, and set up a fight with Dwight that’s lovingly resolved by the end of the show. “I made myself cry writing the scene with Dwight read-ing Michael’s recommendation letter,” Daniels admits. “I was sitting in a Coffee Bean and going boo-hoo-hoo as I was writing it.” When Michael reaches the airport, he pulls off his mi-crophone, handing it to the ever-unseen mockumentary crew. Daniels threw in a line that’s gotten him the most positive feedback—when Michael Scott says, “Hey, will you guys let me know if this ever airs?”

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