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Can "The Office" Survive Without Ed Helms, John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer?

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We all thought things were going downhill when Michael Scott (Steve Carell) announced his retirement from the Dunder-Mifflin Scranton, but what will happen to The Office if they also lose Andy, Jim and Pam?

James Spader recently announced his decision to exit the long-running NBC laffer after only one season. He came on in the wake of Carell's departure, playing Saber Industries new CEO Robert California. Spader's presence was intended to ease the audience's transition into the post-Michael Scott era, so it comes as no surprise that the actor decided to make a dash for the door.

What Spader's departure really highlights is the contractual limbo in which many of the sitcom's key actors languish. Rainn Wilson (Dwight Schrute), Mindy Kaling (Kelly Kapour), Ed Helms (Andy Bernard), John Krasinski (Jim Halpert) and Jenna Fischer (Pam Halpert) are all free agents at the conclusion of the eighth and current season. Rainn Wilson and Mindy Kaling have publicly expressed interest in moving on to other projects. Helms, Krasinski and Fischer are in talks with the Peacock network to return for a ninth round, though those talks have yet to produce any substantive agreement.

Further complicating NBC's decision is the fact that The Office has started to show its age in the ratings. The one-time heavyweight dropped 15 percent overall since Carell's exit but still averages a 3.5 in the key advertising demo, according to Nielsen. That's a far cry from the show's ratings prime, but still a solid showing for a scripted, single-camera sitcom this long-in-the-tooth. The Office remains the highest rated comedy on the struggling network, which has clocked in fourth in the ratings for the last several years.

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The Office also enjoys the youngest audience of any series on the big four television networks. Given the sorry state of NBC's current primetime lineup, it's hard to imagine a scenario where The Office doesn't return for a ninth season.

That puts Helms, Krasinski and Fischer in a strong negotiating position, a fact that cannot be lost on the three actors' agents. Helms in particular stands to rake in a substantial salary. The success of his Hangover movie franchise has made him by far the biggest star on the show.

As for Kaling's Kelly and Wilson's Dwight, only time will tell. The NBC rumor mill has been churning with talk of a Dwight Schrute spinoff in the works...