The future of NBC's "The Office" is in question.
With much of the main cast only under contract for the current season -- Season 8 -- speculation regarding another season (or possible lack thereof) has run rampant. Now, the latest bunch of news -- Ed Helms joining the cast of a Fox comedy pilot and showrunner Paul Lieberstein leaving the series to work on the Dwight Schrute spinoff -- has put the future of "The Office" in serious jeopardy.
But rumors have been on the tips of TV insiders' tongues for some time. First, the news of Mindy Kaling's new OB/GYN comedy pilot at Fox broke in January 2012. Kaling's overall deal with NBC is also expiring. Then, talk of a Dwight spinoff emerged and was quickly confirmed by series star Rainn Wilson. But it doesn't stop there. New cast addition James Spader didn't renew his contract for Season 9.
"James always wanted this to be a one year arc, and he now leaves us having created one of the most enigmatic and dynamic characters in television," Lieberstein said in a statement in February 2012. "He's been a great friend to me and the show, helping us successfully transition into the post-Michael Scott years, and I'm grateful for that. I'm already looking for ways to work with him again."
That brings us to the latest casting news: Helms will appear in Kaling's comedy project at Fox. According to EW, Helms will guest star in the pilot as a potential love interest for Kaling's character, his character goes on a blind date with her protagonist. However, guest starring roles on pilots do not always guarantee series regular status if the show is picked up. TV Guide reports Helms and John Krasinski are close to signing new deals for Season 9, and many on the show are treating a new season -- if there is one -- like it would be the last. It looks like Helms' guest role on Kaling's project could be left at that.
"It's likely to be written for some of the characters as a last year," a source told TV Guide. "But if a couple new characters are introduced or other story ideas emerge, you just never know."
"The Office" has been one of NBC's better performing shows for the last few seasons. Debuting to more than 11 million viewers in 2005, the show maintained a steady viewership through its first couple of seasons, but lately, ratings have been on a bit of a decline. Its most recent episode had 4.9 million viewers, but had a 2.4 rating in the coveted 18-49 demographic.
Meanwhile, network brass and "The Office" showrunner Lieberstein, who also plays Toby on the series, are at work on the Dwight spinoff. Both The Hollywood Reporter and EW report NBC is "actively searching for a replacement" for the writer/producer. According to THR, the potential spinoff, "The Farm," would feature Wilson's character leaving "The Office" altogether. Lieberstein could still participate on the series in a reduced capacity. He's attached to "The Farm" as a co-creator and would serve as showrunner if the backdoor pilot -- an upcoming episode of "The Office" is expected to be used as a test run for the spinoff -- makes it so series.
NBC's scheudle for the 2012-2013 is far from set, with only "Grimm" getting an early renewal.
For more on "The Office's" potential restructuring, click over to TV Guide.
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