There's drama at The Office.
James Spader's decision to exit the long-running NBC comedy comes as co-stars Rainn Wilson and Mindy Kaling are questioning their futures with the show. And while stars Ed Helms, John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer are in talks to return for a ninth season, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter none has a deal in place. A future without these actors' characters seems hard to imagine, but the ensemble mockumentary famously replaced star Steve Carell last year.
Ratings this season have dropped 15 percent but are still averaging a 3.5 in the key 18-to-49 demo when the full week's viewership is factored in, according to Nielsen. That's hardly The Big Bang Theory territory, but Office is the highest-rated comedy on fourth-place NBC, adding extra pressure to secure the key talent. "I can't imagine a scenario in which the show doesn't come back for a ninth season," says one Office insider.
The comedy has the youngest audience of any primetime series on the big four networks with a median age of 36, and it generates $179,000 per 30-second spot for the network, according to an Ad Age report. What's more, aside from Modern Family and Parks & Recreation, Office has the most affluent viewership on broadcast TV.
But after years working at Dunder Mifflin, the cast can be forgiven for pursuing new projects. Writer and co-star Kaling has a comedy pilot at Fox. If it is picked up to series, Kaling, whose Universal Television deal expires in June, is expected to depart Office and focus instead on the new effort. Fellow writer-producer Daniel Chun has inked an overall deal with rival ABC Studios and will depart the Paul Lieberstein-run series at the end of the season.
NBC also is eyeing a potential midseason spinoff centered on Wilson's Dwight Schrute character, which likely will get a test episode next fall. If the network opts to move forward with it, Wilson, too, would pack his briefcase. Wilson, Kaling, Krasinski and Fischer have been with the series since its premiere in 2005. Helms -- arguably the show's biggest star thanks to the Hangover films -- joined in 2006 and has played a bigger role following Carell's departure.
"The Office is still their top-rated scripted show and the linchpin of NBC's Thursday night comedy block," says Horizon Media's Brad Adgate, who notes NBC will likely spend big to retain the show -- and its stars.