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What Happened to Michael Scott on The Office?

From his sales skills, to his exit (and return!) - this is the journey of Michael Scott.

By Trent Moore

Back when The Office started in 2005, series star Steve Carell was far from the comedy icon he’d become in the decades to follow. He was coming off a memorable stint on The Daily Show as a correspondent, and managed to edge out the likes of Bob Odenkirk for the role of Michael Scott as the manager of the Scranton branch of Dunder MIfflin.

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Watch every episode of The Office on Peacock.

So where did the journey go from there?

Carell played Michael Scott for the first seven seasons of the beloved NBC series (stream the entire series, plus the extended SuperFan episodes, on Peacock), quickly becoming a fan favorite as the show started gaining steam and buzz in its second season. 

It didn’t take long for The Office’s success to see Carell become an A-list star all his own. He won on a Golden Globe in 2006 for his work on the series, and earned Golden Globe nominations from 2006-2011. Carell also earned Emmy Award nominations from 2006 through 2011 for his work on the series, along with two Screen Actors Guild Award wins and myriad nominations across the same period. Basically, Carell’s role as Michael Scott had him positively owning the awards circuit during The Office's run.

Michael Scott Was Actually A Great Salesman

Though Michael Scott is mostly a goofball and clueless boss during his The Office tenure, it turns out he wasn’t always falling upward. As we learn in the moments where Michael gets a chance to actually flex his sales muscles, there’s a reason he found himself promoted to leading this branch of the paper company. He’s one heck of a good salesman.

We get to see this first hand, along with the hilariously shocked Jan Levinson (Melora Hardin), in the Season 2 episode “The Client.” The story follows Michael and Jan as they’re out to wine and dine a customer, played by Saturday Night Live veteran Tim Meadows. Michael moves the appointment to the nearby Chili’s restaurant for a more laid back vibe, and takes his time telling jokes and building a rapport with Meadows’ character. 

But it’s when Michael takes that rapport and smoothly transitions it into talking about the shared challenges they have with the economy, and being members of the shared community of Scranton, and uses that relationship to close the deal. Michael might not be the best at managing people but he’s always been one heck of a good salesman.

Michael Scott Had Bad Luck With Love Interests

Though Michael Scott eventually found the love of his life, it took a wild ride to get there. Early in the series’ run, Carell had a chance to star alongside his real-life wife Nancy Carell. Nancy played the realtor Carol, who sells Michael his condo and dates him for a season or two.

But Michael’s most dysfunctional relationship was easily with his one-time boss Jan, and their on-and-off relationship lasts a few years, ranging from when she was fired from Dunder Mifflin, to when she and Michael share a condo and she starts a candle company. After myriad fights, one bonkers dinner party and a few more fights, their relationship finally flames out when  Michael realizes he’s actually kind of miserable.

Along the way, Michael dated a few others (including Pam’s mother, which made things a bit awkward around the office), but the love of his life came when he meet Dunder Mifflin human resources rep Holly Flax (Amy Ryan). Holly has the same weird, awkward sense of human as Michael. She works at a different branch, though she lands in Scranton for a couple of stints, which is where she meets Michael. It took some time, but the two eventually fall in love, giving Michael Scott his well-deserved happy ending after so many years of loneliness.

Michael Scott Left The Office in Season 7

After Michael and Holly finally fell in love, Michael popped the question in a romantic moment right in the Dunder Mifflin office in the Season 7 episode “Garage Sale.” The only problem? Holly needs to leave Scranton and move across the country to Boulder, Colorado to help take care of her aging parents. So with Michael in love, he decides to quit Dunder Mifflin and move away with her. It made for a few heartbreaking episodes, as Michael is clearly excited to start his new life, but heartbroken over leaving his Dunder Mifflin family.

Michael’s exit finds him saying goodbyes to all his favorite coworkers, with Pam catching up to him at the airport for a touching hug and goodbye message that happens off-microphone, as they’ve both removed their microphones in the airport at that point. So what did she say? Pam actress Jenna Fischer later confirmed it was a personal message from her to Carell, jgenuinely emotional about their time together on the series.

“That was me talking to Steve. I told him all the ways I was going to miss him when he left our show,” she said. “Those were real tears and a real goodbye. That was a really emotional scene."

Why Did Steve Carell Leave The Office?

After seven seasons on The Office, Carell decided to wrap up his tenure on the series and move on with his career, mostly to film projects like Foxcatcher, The Big Short, Asteroid City and voicing Gru in the massively successful Despicable Me animated film franchise. But even early during his time on The Office, his big break came starring in the raunchy comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which showed he had all the potential of a big screen star.

Looking back on his departure while speaking on The Office Ladies podcast, Carell noted his exited was well-timed to open a lane for other stars to lead the series, while still finding a story that honored Michael’s journey in a fitting way.

“It was time for other characters to step to the forefront and other storylines to be pursued. The timing was right for everybody. But simultaneously, there was just a sense of joy that we had experienced all of this. I was getting a chance to take a lap with everybody. I was simultaneously saying goodbye as Michael and us as friends in this moment of work together,” Carell said. “[It] was the culmination showing the growth that he didn’t need the big sendoff, he didn’t need the big party. He could say goodbye to all of his friends on his own terms without the fanfare. I really enjoyed having that character evolve to that point in that moment.”

Michael Scott Made a Surprise Return For The Office Series Finale

Though Carell left the series a full two seasons before its eventual finale, the actor was persuaded to return for the series finale, which followed Dwight’s (Rainn Wilson) wedding with Angela (Angela Kinsey) and a reunion among the Dunder Mifflin crew a year after the long-awaited PBS documentary (which was the in-story impetus for the series) about the paper company had aired.

Carell said in the An Oral History of The Office podcast that he “felt like Michael’s story had definitely ended,” but he was lured back by a fitting story that remained true to the story they’d told with the character’s departure.

“I was reticent about coming back because you guys had two more, really valuable seasons and that was everyone else’s ending. Michael had already had his,” Carell said. “But at the same time, I felt like I should out of respect for all of you guys and out of my love for everybody, to acknowledge the ending of this thing.”

Series co-created Greg Daniels added during the podcast that Carell “really liked” the idea of Michael coming back for Dwight’s wedding, considering their bond over the first seven seasons had grown so close. It also meant a lot to Carell that he came back for the wedding, and not the documentary reunion.

“Like he thought the character learned something, so he didn’t need self-promotion,” Daniels said. “At this point, he didn’t need to come back to be on the documentary. He came back for his friend Dwight.”

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