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The reason Steve Carell left The Office after season 7

"Oh, this is going to feel so good, getting this off my chest ... that's what she said."

Hard as it may be to believe, nearly a decade has passed since Steve Carell uttered those churlish last words and walked away from the small-screen role that made him a household name. The role was that of Michael Scott — the charmingly-slash-infuriatingly tone-deaf man child who served as Regional Manager of Scranton, Pennsylvania's Dunder Mifflin branch. The show was, of course, NBC's groundbreaking mockumentary comedy The Office — itself inspired by Ricky Gervais' beloved UK series of the same name. Though Carell spent seven mostly brilliant seasons on The Office, he shocked both fans and critics alike when he announced that after so many years — and 138 groaningly hilarious episodes — of living inside the often cringe-inducing world of the wannabe "World's Best Boss," he was ready to move on from both the character and the series.

Carell bid a fond, tear-filled adieux to his Dunder Mifflin family on one of The Office's best episodes – and, like Scott himself, the actor set out for proverbial greener pastures. While Carell would reprise the role just a couple of years later in a memorable cameo for The Office's series finale, it's finally become clear exactly why the actor chose to walk away from a show and character that now rank among the best-loved in television history.

The first time Steve Carell felt he should leave The Office

In April 2010, Steve Carell made the first public mention that his days in the fictional Dunder Mifflin office were possibly numbered. He told the BBC (via Entertainment Weekly) that because his contract for The Office only ran through season 7, the then-forthcoming season would "probably be [his] last year" on the series. According to interviews published in Andy Greene's book The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s, which was published on March 24, 2020, a lack of internal response to Carell's comment about season 7 potentially being his last actually made the actor feel like it was time to leave. 

Brian Wittle, who worked as a boom operator and sound mixer on The Office, explained the sequence of events in the book (via Collider). "[Carell] was doing a radio interview and he haphazardly mentioned, almost unconsciously, that it might be his last season. He didn't plan on saying it out loud and he hadn't decided anything. He was kind of thinking out loud, but he did it in an interview in public and it created news. Then what he said was the people connected to the show had no reaction to it. They didn't call and say, 'What? You wanna leave?' He said he didn't get any kind of response from them," said Wittle. "When he realized he didn't get any kind of response from them, he thought, 'Oh, maybe they don't really care if I leave. Maybe I should go do other things.'"

Wittle added that the people "in charge of keeping him there didn't make a big effort to do so until afterward," so it was perhaps "easier" for Carell to move on when he did.

Steve Carell didn't want to go, but NBC reportedly left him no other choice

Elsewhere in The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s, hairstylist Kim Ferry corroborated Wittle's story, further noting that Carell "didn't want to leave the show" and had told NBC brass that he planned on signing a new Office contract that would be good "for another couple of years." According to Ferry, however, network executives simply didn't reach out to him about negotiating a new deal. 

"He planned on staying on the show. He told his manager and his manager contacted [NBC] and said he's willing to sign another contract for a couple years. So all of that was willing and ready and, on their side, honest," Ferry detailed. "And the deadline came for when [NBC executives] were supposed to give him an offer and it passed and they didn't make him an offer. So his agent was like, 'Well, I guess they don't want to renew you for some reason.' Which was insane to me. And to him, I think."

She continued, noting that Carell didn't want to leave The Office behind — he simply had no other choice. "[Carell] was like, 'Look, I told them I want to do it. I don't want to leave. I don't understand.' It just is mind-boggling how that happened," shared Ferry. "And I feel bad because I think a lot of people think he did leave the show on his own merit and it's absolutely not true. I'm telling you. I was there. I was there. He really wanted to stay. And it devastated all of us because he was the heart of our show."

Allison Jones — a casting director who's worked on Freaks and Geeks, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Good Place, Parks and Recreation, Arrested Development, The Office, and more — called the whole situation "absolutely asinine" since Carell truly wanted to stay on the show. She stated, "As I recall, he was going to do another season and then NBC, for whatever reason, wouldn't make a deal with him."

Steve Carell reportedly needed some R-E-S-P-E-C-T, but didn't get it

The Office producer Randy Cordray offered another element that contributed to Carell's departure: the arrival of Bob Greenblatt, who became the chairman of NBC Entertainment in 2011. Allegedly, Greenblatt "was not as big a fan of The Office as we wished he would've been," and "took The Office for granted." Cordray noted his belief that Carell likely would have stayed on the show if there was more respect coming from NBC: "If you're not respected and don't even get offered a contract or a discussion of a future contract, then you move on."

For what it's worth, Greenblatt maintained in The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s that he "couldn't do anything about" Carell leaving the series, since he believed it was already happening before his promotion.

Steve Carell switched from the small screen to the silver one after The Office

Like so many television breakouts before him, once Carell left the small screen, he sought to achieve big-screen glory. Carell's movie cred has taken a few hits of late — with the soapy, dramatic Beautiful Boy that some people loved and others loathed, and the unmitigated disaster that was Welcome To Marwen — but he's still managed to carve out an impressive slate of comedic (Date Night, Crazy, Stupid, Love) and dramatic (The Big Short, Battle of the Sexes) projects since making the switch to movies. All the while, he's been boasting a blockbuster animated franchise with the Despicable Me film series, lending his voice to the hilarious villain-turned-hero Gru. Heck, Carell even claimed an Oscar nomination for his wildly unsettling turn as John du Pont in 2014's Foxcatcher.

It's hardly surprising that Carell would find such career success on both big and small screens. The actor didn't officially break through to the mainstream until The Office hit the airwaves in 2005, but he had been plugging away in Hollywood for years with supporting and creative roles on TV fare like The Dana Carvey Show and Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. As for Carell's film roles, he'd already stolen scenes from the likes of Jim Carrey (in Bruce Almighty) and Will Ferrell (in Anchorman) before claiming the role of Michael Scott in 2005 — a year that also happened to see Carell's film breakout in Judd Apatow's landmark comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin

Would Steve Carell ever play Michael Scott again?

As many roles as he's played in the years since leaving The Office behind, Carell's work as Michael Scott is now of the iconic sort — so much so that fans and reporters alike continue to hound Carell about his time on the series and the possibility of reprising his role in a potential reboot of The Office. Of his seven seasons playing Michael Scott, Carell appears to have nothing but fond memories, noting in an interview with Collider, "I love the show. It was the most exciting time, and all of those people are my friends. It was a special thing before people thought it was a special thing."

Sadly, those fond memories aren't enough to make Carell want to appear on any sort of reunion or reboot — an enticing prospect that the actor continues to shoot down at every turn, albeit with loving insight. "I don't think we can recapture that same magic," he told Collider. "I just wouldn't want to make the mistake of making a less good version of it."

As the trend of revivals, reboots, and remakes rages on, we've all seemingly been subject to "less good versions" of once-great shows and movies in recent years, so maybe Carell is on to something there. The good news is that we'll be able to revisit the Dunder Mifflin gang for years and years to come, with The Office continuing to rack up the streams and fans everywhere it goes.