When Steve Carell exited The Office in Season 7, his departure left a huge void in the show. Playing the socially inept Dunder Mifflin manager Michael Scott from 2005 to 2011, Carell created a character that was synonymous with the sitcom.
Filling his shoes as the boss of the Scranton branch was tough for producers. When they finally selected Ed Helms’ character Andy Bernard to replace Michael, the goofy paper salesman that viewers had grown to love seemed to change a bit too much.
Dwight or Andy as head of Dunder Mifflin?
After Carell’s exit, producers started going over options for his successor. The two main contenders were Helms and Rainn Wilson, who played Michael’s faithful advocate Dwight Schrute.
“There was ultimately a big Dwight camp and there was a big Andy camp,” writer Amelie Gillette told Andy Greene, author of The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s. With both actors held in high esteem on the show, the production team tried to hone in on how each character would play out.
“I did not think it should be Andy,” writer Justin Spitzer admitted. “I loved the character of Andy. I loved Ed. … He’s such a people pleaser, but Michael is a people pleaser. I think people would have been more excited to see Dwight as the boss because he’d been wanting it for so long. It just seemed like it suggested more stories to me.”
With Helms starring in the extremely successful Hangover franchise, the scales turned in his direction as the new head of Dunder Mifflin. “I think The Hangover calculus sort of shifted things toward Andy pretty quickly,” writer Owen Ellickson revealed.
A different Andy Bernard
Turns out Helms was just as surprised as viewers when the news hit he landed the promotion.
“I knew about three or four weeks before we started shooting,” Helms said at the time, according to Reuters. “Right away the question that came up was: ‘What’s gonna happen next?’ There just wasn’t an answer for a long, long time which in some ways was a blessing. It gave us all time to zen out about it and come to terms with whatever it might be.”
While Andy was known as an acapella-singing, banjo-playing goofball around Dunder Mifflin, producers felt the need to tone down his kooky personality and take on a more boss-like demeanor.
“Andy was a goofier character before that season,” Gillette explained. “I feel like we tried to rein him in a little character-wise… But I think that that’s what anyone who rose to that position would do.”
Ed Helms’ character changed too much
With such huge shoes to fill and a marked void left by Carell’s departure, Helms taking on the managerial role was a tall order.
“It was always discussed that Steve was the linchpin that held it all together,” cinematographer Matt Sohn told Greene. “There were a lot of viewers that once he left, they quit watching, because that was their version of The Office.“
Some of the production staff thought Andy was too similar to Michael in ways. “It felt to me like we were having trouble breaking out of a Michael-shaped mold for the manager,” Ellickson recalled. “That, to me, was one of the biggest problems.”
Critics, while fans of Helms, weren’t thrilled with Andy as boss man. “It felt like a retcon,” TV reviewer Myles McNutt said. “It’s also hard to like Andy when he’s the boss and they’ve neutered any meaning in his character.”
Alan Sepinwall, another television critic, took his analysis a step further. “Andy became just a watered-down Michael,” he told Greene. “He was a Michael who the people already liked, so there’s no tension and there’s no comedy. He was also really annoying.”
While the sitcom is still beloved to this day and considered an iconic comedy, the departure of Carell couldn’t be ignored or rectified. Spitzer summed it up, saying, “There was always the knowledge that we were trying to be the Steve Carell show without Steve Carell.”