Fifteen years ago today, The Office premiered on NBC. Nine seasons and 201 episodes, it’s one of the most popular sitcoms of all-time. To celebrate the anniversary, you can read our rankings of the funniest cold opens or managers, from semi-competent to DeAngelo Vickers. One name you won’t find on that list, however, is James Gandolfini, who was apparently considered to replace Michael Scott as the Regional Manager of Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton branch when actor Steve Carell left during season seven.
In The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s (out today), author Andy Greene writes that during a lengthy search over who should take over for Michael, “everyone found an actor they were really excited about: James Gandolfini,” according to Mashable. “Paul Feig and B.J. Novak met with Gandolfini to chat about the role, and though the Sopranos star was very complimentary, he wasn’t sure if he was right for comedy. Apparently Gandolfini eventually said yes to the role, but then hesitated before things became official.” The role eventually went to James “I’m the fucking lizard king” Spader, although Gandolfini shouldn’t have been concerned about his comedy chops.
Hiring Spader is a decision the writers and producers would later regret. “Spader is a good guy and he’s smart, but we needed brilliant comedians and James Spader isn’t funny,” executive producer Ben Silverman told Greene, who added, “Michael was a load-bearing character. He was like this magnet at the center of everything. They tried to fix it with James Spader and bringing in Catherine Tate, and you can see the flop sweat when you watch those episodes.” Gandolfini would’ve been a perfect fit.