Judging by the ratings, it's clear many viewers have already quit going to NBC's "The Office," which signs off for good this week with a one-hour finale at 8 p.m. Thursday, preceded at 7 p.m. by a one-hour retrospective.
It's easy to grow disillusioned with long-running TV series, and, now in its ninth season, "The Office" has certainly had its share of disappointing story arcs, especially after the departure of boss Michael Scott (Steve Carell) at the end of season seven.
But this current ninth season, while certainly not perfect, has at least returned the show to its focus on the core cast while taking storytelling steps forward by introducing the film crew that's been documenting this zany office staff for a PBS documentary for almost a decade.
How will the show end?
It seems likely that there will be some sort of a personal/professional win for Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer), who have been the show's beating heart since the start. During a January press conference on the show's warehouse set, executive producer Greg Daniels dismissed the notion of Michael Scott returning.
''Steve is very much of the opinion that the 'Good Bye, Michael' episode and the story arc that we did leading up to it was his goodbye to the fans and to the show, and that the stuff that we're doing this season is the goodbye that the rest of the show gets to have," Daniels said. "So at the moment, we don't have any plans for him to come back."
Aspects of the series finale have been tossed about in "The Office" writers' room since as far back as season two or three. Set six months after the documentary about the office staff airs on PBS, the finale will feature the characters gathering for a wedding and a final round of interviews with filmmakers.
''The basic idea for the last episode has been floating around since way back then, but, you know, the specifics of how we're getting there are changing, and then we had an idea around season four that we are incorporating," Daniels said. "And we're going to play (with the crew filming the office workers) more and more. We couldn't have done a lot of these ideas in season four, because you would just be, you know, it would just be too weird to continue after."
Although the Jim-Pam relationship seemed to be recovering from bumps in the road in an episode last month, it won't be surprising if there's a Jim-Pam emphasis in the finale given the popularity of those characters.
''We didn't want to put pressures on them for a very long time, and then part of the appeal of the last episode last season was to try and do that, and the specifics of it was John's idea that he had in terms of going to Philadelphia and the new company, which I guess had happened to (his) brother," Daniels said.
Krasinski said his brother traveled a lot for one of his jobs and Krasinski took note.
''I got the idea of being away from family and the sacrifices that need to be made, but the sort of incredible ambition and potential to have an exciting job as he did," Krasinski said. "The thing I've respected most about this show is how real the base level is and how real all the characters are. No matter how wacky or fun or ridiculous some of the situations can be, you've experienced something very real with all these characters, and especially with the Jim and Pam stuff. ... The real idea was someone having a feeling that they can do more and be more, which has always been a thing for Jim. I've always gotten questions about, 'Is he content? Is this what he wants?' "
Daniels said he was eager to follow Krasinski's lead for the story in the final season because of the viewer reaction to the Jim-and-Pam relationship.
''The Jim-and-Pam relationship was, you know, really engaging to our fans, and on the websites that follow the show, you can really see how important it was to them, and a lot of them have grown up in their relationships with the show," he said. "One of the things we really wanted to explore thematically this season was the difference between the fairytale romance and reality, because the show was always an extremely realistic show and was purporting to be a documentary, but their relationship is also so romantic and perfect.
''It seemed like there was a little bit of tension there," Daniels continued, "and I think part of this also goes to why have it be the last season. You can make callbacks to the fact that he almost took a job in New York in the end of season three and came back for Pam and now that thwarted ambition is finding an outlet."