But last May, NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly surprised everybody by ordering six more episodes for fall 2005. Says Reilly, ''There was a lot of talk about Seinfeld and Cheers,'' which had slow starts. ''People said, 'We've stuck with shows we believed in before, let's give this a shot.''' Not that they had much choice: Angela Bromstad, president of the NBC Universal Television Studio, admits, ''There wasn't a lot of comedy in development to back it up.'' Reilly and Bromstad also couldn't ignore cheers from execs at NBC's sister movie studio, Universal, who were so impressed with the dailies from Virgin (which shot after The Office wrapped) that they cast Carell to reprise his scene-stealing anchorman role from the 2003 hit Bruce Almighty for the sequel Evan Almighty. This time, he's the lead, taking over a franchise from one of film's most bankable stars. According to Bromstad, ''The feature team was saying 'He's our next Jim Carrey.'''
But when people try to tell Carell he's comedy's Next Big Thing, he swats it away as if they were trying to feed him bees. ''I'm as boring a person as you'll meet,'' he says. ''There's absolutely no depth to me at all.'' This, however, may be crap, judging by his performances. As broad as they may get, they remain sweetly empathetic, from his clueless attraction to Catherine Keener in Virgin to the joy Michael gets when someone in the office treats him like a friend. ''He's always human,'' says writer-director Peter Hedges (Pieces of April), who cast Carell in the upcoming comedy Dan in Real Life. ''He's the rare actor who can make you laugh and break your heart, sometimes within seconds.''