Steve Carell recently announced that after the seventh season of The Office ends in 2011, his role on the show will end as well. But how can The Office exist without Michael Scott, Scranton branch manager and primary catalyst of the show’s silly plots? “They’ve incorporated so many new characters and so many new, great story lines that I have no doubt it’ll continue as strong [as], if not stronger than, ever,” he told E! News’s Kristina Guerrero. But leading characters’ leaving their TV shows almost never works out well—just look at these examples from the past twelve years.
David Duchovny, The X-Files
After Duchovny sued FOX for cheating him out of show profits (or so he claimed), Fox Mulder became a recurring character, rather than a main one. He left the show completely after season eight, but by that point, many viewers and fans had stopped tuning in anyway; they didn’t take Duchovny’s departure—or the bizarre plotlines that followed it—too well. The X-Files stayed on-air only one season after that.
Phil Hartman, Newsradio
After Hartman’s untimely death in 1998, many wondered what would become of Newsradio. The cast was stellar, but there’s no question that Hartman was the best of the bunch. The show never recovered from the loss; Jon Lovitz stepped in as Max Lewis, Bill McNeal’s radio replacement, but it wasn’t enough to save the show. With Hartman gone, Newsradio lost much of its magic.
Anthony Edwards, ER
This series had already suffered big blows when popular characters Dr. Doug Ross (George Clooney) and Nurse Carol Hathaway (Julianna Margulies) vacated, in 1999 and 2000, respectively. But when Edwards announced he was jumping ship, too, that signaled the end of an era. His last episode was one of the highest-rated in ER’s history. The following seasons showed a steady decline in viewership, which was only made worse by writers using ridiculous story lines as a way to grab attention again. For example, one character was crushed under a helicopter a year after getting his arm chopped off by a different helicopter. Seriously.
David Boreanaz, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
After three years of being part of one of the most tortured romances in TV history, Boreanaz’s Angel left Sunnydale for L.A.’s smoggier pastures. Buffy and the Scooby Gang then went to college, and the show really went downhill, especially when it came to Buffy’s love life. None of her subsequent suitors could rival the brooding magnetism that Angel brought to every episode. Riley was as boring as plain toast, and let’s not even go into the weirdness of her and Spike’s relationship.
Mischa Barton, The O.C.
You could say that The O.C. sucked from the very beginning, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But even hardcore fans abandoned ship when writers killed off Marissa Cooper in a car crash. The show itself always bordered on being too absurd to watch, but after seeing one of the four central characters die in such a tragic way—and out of nowhere—what viewers were left decided they were over it. FOX canceled the show a season later, due to poor ratings.
Maude Flanders, The Simpsons
Let’s be honest: The Simpsons (other than the occasional funny line in an episode) stopped being good a long time ago. And if I think back to where it might’ve gone wrong, the episode where Maude dies—by falling from the bleachers, gruesomely enough—comes to mind. Maude wasn’t a core character like Fox Mulder or Bill McNeal, but she was recurring enough for her death to send shock waves through the fan community. At that point, The Simpsons crossed a line that it never quite recovered from, venturing too far into mean-spirited and nonsensical territory.
Clearly, the Office writers have their work cut out for them if they hope to produce a quality show after Carell exits. Though, considering that the show’s quality has been waning for a few years now, I doubt that’s going to happen. Perhaps executives should take a cue from the British version and end The Office while it’s still respectable. Too often, TV shows in America sputter on for years, dragging out every conceivable story line until there’s no choice but to pull the plug. For once, let’s have a show go out on a high note; when Michael Scott leaves the building, he should take Dwight, Pam, and the rest of the crew with him.