- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 5, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - Instability, even unrest. Major changes at the top. Uncertainty for the future.

No, I’m not talking about the tumultuous Mideast. I’m talking about a pair of popular comedies whose longtime stars have exited with no clear sign of who will replace them.

If you hadn’t heard, Charlie Sheen was fired last month from CBS’ “Two and a Half Men.” There will be no more new episodes of “Men” this season. Meanwhile, the show’s producers ponder whether to bring back the show minus Sheen for its ninth season (which seems a no-brainer) and, if they do, which actor to sign who can best fill Sheen’s shoes.

Steve Carell, a different sort of fellow who has never once claimed to be a warlock or headlined a “Torpedo of Truth” concert tour, is departing “The Office” under much more cordial terms.

As long ago as last spring, Carell was broadly hinting at plans to leave the NBC comedy after this, its seventh season, to concentrate on movies. Recently he shot his last episode, which will air late this month. And then … who will take over for Carell’s character, dippy Michael Scott, at Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton office?

These sort of personnel matters aren’t usually what occupy a viewer’s mind this time of year.

Any other TV season, attention would be showered on which series will be back next fall and which shows might fall by the wayside.

Meanwhile, fans are usually preparing to bid farewell to a favorite show reaching the end of a momentous run. Last year, for example, the impending finales of “24” and “Lost” had the audience on tenterhooks, eager to see how those sagas would conclude. The year before, it was “ER” bowing out after 15 seasons.

By contrast, there are no must-see finales this year. (Sure, “Smallville” will wrap up after 10 seasons. But who knew it was still on anyway?)

Nor are any truly beloved shows whose fate hangs in the balance while their supporters feverishly lobby for their survival.

No, the big suspense of Spring 2011 dwells on two veteran yet (presumably) full-of-life sitcoms and burning questions like, Who will be the new star? And, Will that new star sustain or even build on the show’s past success _ or mess things up?

On “The Office,” it’s known that Will Ferrell will step in for this season’s last few episodes playing Michael Scott’s provisional replacement.

A theory came and went recently proposing that Ferrell would stick around as a permanent cast member. But he’s a busy and highly successful movie star. He seems a long shot to be tied down to a series.

An alternate theory: “The Office” might promote from within, filling the void with a member of the show’s large existing cast.

Needless to say, the show’s network and studio are mum on their long-term plans, which might not reveal themselves until next season is under way.

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