The comedy on TGS: The Girlie Show was mostly backstage in this freewheeling inside-showbiz sitcom. Head writer Liz ( Tina Fey), a very modern if somewhat bland woman, had developed TGS for her sexy but neurotic actress friend Jenna ( Jane Krakowski). However, when Liz's mentor at NBC died, she was assigned a new boss, pompous nutcase Jack ( Alec Baldwin), " Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Programming." Jack meddled in everything, hiring mentally unstable wild man Tracy ( Tracy Morgan) as the new star and renaming the show TGS With Tracy Jordan, although Jenna and nerdy impressionist Josh ( Lonny Ross) remained as costars. Tracy was fresh off a string of terrible movies with titles like Honky Grandma Be Trippin' and Who Dat Ninja? and he shook things up with his off-the-wall stunts , but he needed a lot of handling. Others included Liz's competent producer Pete (Scott Absit), goofy but enthusiastic NBC page Kenneth ( Jack McBrayer), sarcastic writer Frank ( Judah Friedlander) and African-American writer Toofer ( Keith Powell). Cerie ( Katrina Bowden) was Liz's dim-bulb assistant.
The show included celebrity parodies ( a mumbling Barbara Walters, an enraged Elizabeth Taylor), many by cast member Rachel Dratch, as well as lampooning the huge NBC/General Electric corporation. "30 Rock" is the nickname for 30 Rockefeller Plaza, NBC's headquarters in New York City.
A Review from The New York Times
TV Antics: A Sitcom Mocks Its Milieu
By ALESSANDRA STANLEY
Published: October 11, 2006
Nothing very funny happens on “30 Rock” until Alec Baldwin enters the room, and suddenly this new NBC sitcom comes alive. If the Yale drama school — or the I.C.M. mailroom — offered workshops on star power, tonight’s series about a live, late-night comedy show could serve as the textbook.
Alec Baldwin is a meddling new network executive in “30 Rock.”
Mr. Baldwin has a slyly absurd comic presence that is bigger and brighter than any joke or character actor on the show. The series “30 Rock” was created by Tina Fey, who was until recently the lead writer of “Saturday Night Live” and who also wrote the screenplay for the movie “Mean Girls.” Ms. Fey has some amusing, seditious lines as Liz Lemon, the put-upon creator of “The Girlie Show,” but for the most part she and other cast members slumber until Mr. Baldwin takes over as Jack Donaghy, their new network boss.
“I like you,” he tells Liz. “You have the boldness of a much younger woman.”
NBC already has another series about the backstage machinations of a late-night comedy show like “Saturday Night Live.” It’s an hourlong drama by Aaron Sorkin called “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” and it takes television comedy as seriously as “The West Wing” took midterm elections. The new “30 Rock,” which counts Lorne Michaels, the creator of “Saturday Night Live,” among its executive producers, is more playful.
Jack is a corporate smoothie on a mission to pep up “The Girlie Show,” which stars an insecure diva, Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski). He begins by adding a popular and crazy movie star, Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan). He can because his title is “the new V.P. for development for NBC/GE/Universal/Kmart.” When the producer, Pete (Scott Adsit), asks, “We own Kmart now?,” Jack replies in a velvety whisper: “No. So why do you dress like we do?”
Sitcoms today are in about the same state of health as newspapers and newsmagazines: there are fewer of them, and those that remain face older, dwindling audiences and corporate owners with little patience for sagging returns. It’s a sad paradox that the genre that for the last 30 years defined and distinguished American television nowadays seems almost obsolete; one of the best, “The Office,” on NBC, is a replica of the British original by Ricky Gervais.
Dramatic series, on broadcast networks as well as on HBO and Showtime, are reaching new heights in boldness and creativity. The most successful prime-time comedies are dramas with a sense of humor, like “House” or “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Ugly Betty.” Traditional sitcoms are not nearly as inventive. Viewers, especially younger ones, seek out more daring amusement in clubs, on the Internet, on late-night shows and on cable networks like Comedy Central.
Ten years ago NBC had 16 sitcoms on its weekly schedule, including “Mad About You,” “Wings,” “Friends” and “Seinfeld.” This season NBC has four. Two are modest hits: “The Office” and “My Name Is Earl.” The new ones are “30 Rock,” and “Twenty Good Years,” which both premiere tonight.
Of those new shows, “30 Rock” has more sparkle and a better chance of success, mostly because of Mr. Baldwin’s alchemic power to make even slack dialogue sound like madcap wit. “Twenty Good Years,” which stars two great sitcom actors, John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor, as frisky sexagenarians, is a harder sell.
For one, it seems to be targeting an entirely different audience. The show “30 Rock,” which has no laugh track and is filmed in the style of “My Name Is Earl” or “Arrested Development,” is at heart a romantic comedy about a 30-something single female writer in New York. (The show’s title is the studio’s address in Rockefeller Center.)
There is nothing awry with the casting of “30 Rock.” Ms. Fey is a comedy writer, not
really an actress, but she plays herself convincingly. Mr. Morgan didn’t really stand out as a cast member on the real “Saturday Night Live,” but for the mock version he does an amusing impersonation of a monomaniacal and volatile comedy star, somewhere between Dave Chappelle and Cuba Gooding Jr. in “Jerry Maguire.”
And Mr. Baldwin, who has played similar roles as a guest star on “Will & Grace” and “Friends,” makes everyone seem better just by being there.
A Review from USA TODAY
'30 Rock' goes heavy for the laughs
By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY
Funny makes up for a multitude of sins.
By now, you've probably heard the knock on 30 Rock. It's yet another NBC showbiz series set behind the scenes at an SNL-type show. It's trying to survive in prime time with a night-time star, Tina Fey, who's a better writer than actor. It has gone through some major on-screen changes on its way to a time slot that can be charitably described as challenging.
All of that matters, of course, particularly for the show's long-term health. But what matters most tonight is that 30 Rock probably will make you laugh, no small achievement in a season in which too few shows are even trying.
Much of the credit goes to Fey, a clever writer who has written her part so that it stays within her limited performance range, which mostly is confined to snide remarks and a look of put-upon befuddlement. She also has wisely assigned most of the heavy-duty comic lifting to her co-stars: Tracy Morgan as the show's newly hired, possibly unhinged star and, best of all, Alec Baldwin as a newly named, hilariously improper network executive.
Fey plays Liz Lemon, head writer of The Girlie Show, a sketch show starring Liz's friend Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski in a role that seems insufficiently conceived).
Although the show does well with women, it doesn't do well enough with men to please her new boss, Jack Donaghy (Baldwin), the kind of executive who believes, "You have to change things that are perfectly good just to make them your own."
The change he has in mind is a new star. Morgan plays Tracy Jordan, a comic turned movie star with a large posse, a larger ego and severe mental problems.
"The important thing to remember," Jack says, "is he was never charged with a crime."
Unlike the better, if overly earnest and insular Studio 60, this sitcom version is less concerned with the real business of broadcast and more with milking laughs out of hemorrhoid creams, cat wranglers and frightened maids. (The last two are played by poor Rachel Dratch, who was demoted from co-star to character actress over the summer.)
The only real insight into the inner workings of TV is one the show never mentions: Most of the writers on The Girlie Show are men.
Yet for all its laughs, 30 Rock does call to mind a kind of sketch show version of The Mary Tyler Moore Show — one in which everyone's playing Ted. That can be fun for a while, but eventually sitcom viewers tend to want to root for someone.
Fey needs to prove she can give the show a central character who can reliably and empathetically anchor the jokes in place, which is one of the requirements that distinguishes a sitcom from a sketch.
If she can't, well, even funny may not be enough to keep the show off the rocks.
A Review from Newsweek
Ready for Prime Time?
Tina Fey launches NBC's second ode to 'Saturday Night Live.' It's certainly funnier than 'Studio 60,' but is it funny enough?
By Marc Peyser | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Oct 11, 2006
One of the disadvantages of being the last TV show to debut on the fall schedule is that your show has already been discussed, dissected and, in some quarters, dismissed before it’s hit the air. By now, you’ve probably heard about “30 Rock,” the NBC sitcom created by “Saturday Night Live” alumnae (and “Mean Girls” writer) Tina Fey, and you probably think you know all about it—that it’s an “SNL”-inspired comedy, not to be confused with Aaron Sorkin's “SNL”-inspired drama, also on NBC. It turns out that, in the proud tradition of DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN and MISSION ACCOMPLISHED, those early reports are dead wrong. “30 Rock” is greatly inspired by a TV show. But that show is “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
Fey stars as Liz Lemon, the creator of a fictional series called “The Girlie Show,” which only resembles “SNL” in that it is not funny. Lemon is, like Mary Richards before her, the level-headed woman who is surrounded by buffoons, head cases and wackos. Chief among those is Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan, another “SNL” alum), a foul-mouthed, booty-crazy former stand-up comic (think Martin Lawrence) who is hired to save “The Girlie Show” from a flava-less flameout. When Jordan tapes a network promo that goes “I’m proud as a peacock,” you can guess which syllable gets the most emphasis. Hiring Jordan is the idea of Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), a pompous network executive who tells one terrified underling to “relax your balls.” Can’t you just hear Ed Asner's Lou Grant, teleported to the year 2006, saying something like that?
So “30 Rock” isn’t exactly original—did we mention Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski), the star of “The Girlie Show,” who is so vain she makes Ted Baxter look modest? When a picture of her passed out at a party ends up in Page Six, she’s positively thrilled, because it makes her look thin. That said, “30 Rock” is often charming. Morgan is not only hilarious as the show’s star, he manages to convey the sweetness behind his outrageousness. There’s actually a lovely scene in Wednesday’s pilot where, after he and Lemon bond at a strip club, they stop at the apartment building where he was a foster child. Tracy then proceeds to pee on the side of the building, which is one way of hosing down the sentimentality. Fey has created broad characters with a heart, which is more than most sitcoms have to offer.
If there’s a weak link it is, ironically, Fey—or at least her character. Liz is too flat and passive; she reacts to the crazies around her in ways that often bring out a smart aside but not much character or emotion beyond suppressed exasperation There’s a bit of an “Odd Couple” vibe between her and Morgan that may evolve into something interesting, but right now, she’s content to reel off one-liners before shifting the attention back to her larger-than-life costars. It’s not a fatal flaw, but “30 Rock” will be a lot stronger when its star stands up to the rest of the cast.
An Article from The AP
Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin help make '30 Rock' funny
BY FRAZIER MOORE
AP Television Writer |
Friday, January 19, 2007
The supreme looniness of "30 Rock" rings clear in the lips-scrunching phrase "rural juror."
"It came out of a discussion in the writers' room last June," explained Tina Fey, auteur and star of this NBC comedy. "I said, 'You know what two words I cannot pronounce properly?"'
After a few abortive efforts by Fey's co-writers (who, like her, made "rural juror" sound akin to "ruhhr-juhhrr"), everyone was so pleased "we wanted to hurry up and get it on the air before someone else did. As if someone else would stumble on such a random joke."
Random jokes, droll characters and strangely relatable life dilemmas are all being fused by Fey and Co. into the season's funniest new sitcom. OK, maybe that damns it with faint praise. Just say "30 Rock" (airing Thursdays at 8:30 p.m.) is as chockablock with laughs as anything on TV.
Fey plays Liz Lemon, creator-producer-writer of a live variety show reminiscent of "Saturday Night Live" (from which Fey, of course, hails).
Lemon's days are filled not just with pulling the show together, but, more to the point, mediating between her two volatile performers, Tracy Jordan (fellow "SNL" alum Tracy Morgan) and Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski, "Ally McBeal"), while attempting to ward off Jack Donaghy, the meddling NBC exec who oversees Liz's show (as well as other sundry pieces of parent General Electric's empire).
Played with reptilian breeziness by Alec Baldwin (who this week snagged a Golden Globe for his achievement), Donaghy could be described as a polished version of bullying boss Lou Grant from the classic "Mary Tyler Moore Show."
And in Liz Lemon, you might say Fey has created for herself a new-millennium Mary Richards, laboring not in a Minneapolis TV newsroom but as one tiny cog in a global corporation.
Like Mary, Liz is handed loads of responsibility yet limited power. Custodian of not one but two high-maintenance stars, she in effect has a pair of Ted Baxters to contend with.
Another similarity: She's a washout in the romance department.
Unlike sweet Mary Richards, the aptly named Lemon doesn't turn the world on with her smile, which is usually out of sight. Scrambling from crisis to crisis, Liz would love to turn the world on with a smile but just doesn't have a sec.
She didn't even have a moment to pin down the title of Jenna's soon-to-be-released feature film. Whenever Jenna mentioned it, it always sounded like "Ruhhr Juhhrr," but that couldn't be right.
"She's been talking about it for a year," Liz fretted. "I can't ask her now!"
Thus did the "Rural Juror" inspiration find its way into a December episode. Then it enjoyed a reprise last week when Jenna's film got a sneak peek by other people on her show (who were relieved to learn the title wasn't "Roar Her, Gem Her" or "Oral Germ Whore").
Premiering last October, "30 Rock" started out plenty funny. But it since has become steadily sharper and more sure of itself.
That certainly goes for the cast -- in particular, Baldwin, who, with his performance, somehow strikes a balance between corporate shark and mensch.
"Lemon," purrs Donaghy on entering her office to find her wolfing down a fast lunch, "what tragedy happened in your life that you insist upon punishing yourself with all this mediocrity?"
"What?" she replies. "Because I'm eating a turkey sub?"
"Your turkey sub, your clothes, the fact that a woman of your resources and position lives like some boxcar hobo. Or maybe it's the fact that while I'm saying all this, you have a piece of lettuce stuck in your hair."
The writing is smart and meticulously crafted.
"We try to put tiny jokes throughout that connect," said Fey, taking a break to chat from the Queens studio where "30 Rock" is shot. "We aspire in some ways to be as dense as 'The Simpsons.' That's the gold standard."
But "30 Rock's" knack for exposing the dizzy, often picayunish concerns of its characters as a universal human condition recalls another gold-medal comedy, "Seinfeld."
Like "Seinfeld," which dealt with the life of a standup comic when he wasn't making comedy, "30 Rock" is mostly about life when its characters aren't making television -- but instead come face to face with their own riotous hang-ups.
The growing richness of "30 Rock" makes Thursday a natural home, where NBC's "Must-See TV" tradition took hold a quarter-century ago.
Of course, after "Seinfeld," the unfortunate arrogance reflected in that slogan caught up with the network as later comedies routinely misfired. Since then, viewers have mourned -- and maybe idealized -- bygone Thursday lineups boasting "Cheers," "Frasier" and "Friends" (but also "Veronica's Closet," "Caroline in the City" and "The Single Guy").
Since December, any longing for the past can be laid to rest. The night now begins at 8 p.m. with the madcap "My Name is Earl," followed by the sublimely woebegone "The Office" and hospital high jinks on "Scrubs" (which this week features an inventive full-scale musical episode), then concluding with "30 Rock."
An Article from The New York Daily News
Jerry Seinfeld's on '30 Rock' & show is a gem
Thursday, October 4th 2007, 2:52 PM
Last season, NBC's "30 Rock" survived comparisons to, and outsurvived, another NBC show about backstage life at a network variety series, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip."
Tonight at 8:30, Tina Fey's low-rated but highly praised sitcom returns for a second season, and this time "30 Rock" is packing as much ammunition as it can muster. Not only does it arrive with a fresh new Emmy as Outstanding Comedy Series, but it arrives with a guest appearance by the master of his sitcom domain, Jerry Seinfeld.
The Emmy was deserved, and the Seinfeld appearance - his first on another sitcom - isn't squandered.
I gave this series four stars when it premiered, so bestowing the same praise upon a show that's gotten even tighter and funnier is easy.
The Seinfeld guest spot is a lot more than a glorified cameo. Network executive Jack (Alec Baldwin) has fed all "Seinfeld" episodes into a computer and digitized the comedian's image, with plans to insert him into all NBC shows ("Heroes," for example, which we see) as a ratings stunt. When Seinfeld hears about the plans for "SeinfeldVision," he storms the office, confronts Jack, and interacts with Liz (Fey) and intern Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) in the process.
Next week's episode features the return of Will Arnett as Jack's corporate nemesis, and also boasts a guest appearance by Rip Torn as a company bigwig. Tracy Jordan has some good scenes in both episodes, and though Jane Krakowski's Jenna remains underused, at least she gets a good starting story line this year (a notable weight gain after starring in the Broadway musical version of "Mystic Pizza").
There's a lot to laugh at in "30 Rock," from the overall plots to the throwaway lines and tiny details. When Jenna is asked whether she's familiar with a specific celebrity medical clinic, she replies, "Am I! That's where the Olsen twins were separated!"
And if you pay close attention, you'll find sight gags all over the place - from the boxes of Liz's Ikea-like home-office furniture to Jack's summer reality-series hit, whose title can't be repeated here.
Liz tells anyone who will listen that, even though her romance ended poorly and she's returning from the summer break alone and single, this is her year. Jack is skeptical ("Women your age," he tells her, "are more likely to be mauled at the zoo than to get married") - but these first two episodes bear her out.
But for the woman who plays and created Liz, last year - the one when "30 Rock" won the Emmy for best comedy - wasn't so bad, either.
An Article from The Cleveland Plain Dealer
Tina Fey's 30 Rock,' NBC Thursday-night shows roll out new episodes Ready to Rock'
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Mark Dawidziak Plain Dealer Television Critic
"30 Rock" is one of the few returning shows that could have some fun with the three-month writers strike settled in February. Tina Fey's NBC series, after all, is a behind-the-scenes look at a network sketch-comedy show.
And that fictional sketch-comedy show theoretically would have been shut down by the writers strike. But tonight's episode, the first produced after the strike, will not even mention it. Nor will next week's episode, which will feature guest star Tim Conway, the Willoughby native and five-time Emmy winner who grew up in Chagrin Falls.
"I think people just want to see the shows they like back on the air," Fey said during a telephone conference with TV critics. "So we decided that the strike did not happen in our world, because we felt that for people viewing at home, the real strike was a big enough pain and they probably didn't want to hear anything more about the strike."
"My Name Is Earl" returned with an original episode last week, but tonight really puts NBC back in the prime-time game on Thursday nights. It's a full lineup of original episodes: "My Name Is Earl" at 8 p.m., "30 Rock" at 8:30, "The Office" at 9, "Scrubs" at 9:30 and "ER" at 10.
"The current crop of Thursday shows is a great night of TV," said Fey, the executive producer, creator, writer and star of "30 Rock." "From 'Earl' through to 'Scrubs,' it's just the best night of comedy on TV. It's all very fast moving and funny and intelligent."
The lineup does garner its share of critical acclaim. "30 Rock" won the Emmy last year for outstanding comedy series. The ratings, though, are no laughing matter. None of the NBC comedies is in the top 90 for the season.
"I don't worry about the ratings, because I know that you can't control them by worrying about them," said Fey, the former head writer and "Weekend Update" anchor at "Saturday Night Live." "We have a feeling like we're going to keep making these until they don't let us make them anymore. TV is changing, and people are aware that the way ratings are measured is going to continue to change over the next couple of years. I think the traditional Nielsen thing might not quite reflect everyone who's watching our show."
So how did Fey spend the writers strike? Most of that time was spent at home with her husband, Jeff Richmond, and their 2-year-old daughter, Alice. Richmond, a producer and composer on the series, also is a gifted writer and performer. He co-authored musicals staged at Kent State University when he was a student there in the 1980s.
"It was the only blessing of the writers strike," said Fey, who met Richmond when both were working with Second City in Chicago. "It was a little bit like a maternity leave. It's tough now because my daughter is old enough to say, 'No, you not go to work. You not go outside.' That's hard for any working parent."
A blessing of "30 Rock" is the chance to work with such comedy legends as Jerry Seinfeld, who guest starred on this season's opening episode, and Conway, whose episode will air at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, April 17, on WKYC Channel 3.
"Tim plays a very sweet TV veteran named Bucky Bright, who used to be on a show in the '50s called 'Wagons Ho,' " Fey said. "Tim Conway was a real honor to work with. There's an example of getting to work with someone you grew up idolizing."
Bucky is brought in as a celebrity for a John McCain fund-raising dinner being organized by Jack (Alec Baldwin), but he ends up spending most of his time with Kenneth (Jack McBrayer).
"Jack is looking for a younger, hipper celebrity, so he pawns him off on Kenneth," Fey said. "And Bucky tells Kenneth some very shocking and racy stories about the old days of television."
Conway got his start in Cleveland television in the late '50s and early '60s. Four of Conway's Emmys were for his work as a writer and performer on "The Carol Burnett Show." The fifth Emmy was for a guest appearance on "Coach."
"I think our show is a mix of a realistic universe, with people you care about, but the universe also is a little elastic," Fey said. "It bends. It's a little rubbery. It's a little bit more bent than real life."
An Article from USA TODAY
Published on May 9, 2008
Review: Quirky '30 Rock' on a downhill roll at season's end
By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY
Perhaps it's best that 30 Rock is ending its season early, before it can chase away even more viewers.
Over the past few weeks, 30 Rock (NBC, tonight, 9:30 ET/PT) has gone into a surprising, unsettling decline, as it set consecutive season-ratings lows. And this, by the way, after NBC put it behind the network's highest-rated sitcom, The Office — a move you'd expect to boost viewership, not deflate it.
Granted, 30 Rock has never been a ratings blockbuster: It survives on critical acclaim and on its appeal to a younger demographic. Nonetheless, this is not how anyone would want TV's reigning Emmy winner to perform. Whatever boost the show got from that victory, and from Jerry Seinfeld's season-opening guest appearance, has been not just lost but squandered.
Were numbers the only problem, Rock fans might be able to relax. The show, after all, has already been renewed for next season. But since the strike, this once-dependable sitcom has also lost its way creatively, ditching plot and character in a desperate, scattershot search for laughs, as if its new goal were to become a live-action version of Family Guy.
Certainly, that's the approach taken in tonight's hectic finale. On the plus side, it does yield some funny moments from Alec Baldwin, Jack McBrayer and Matthew Broderick as a Bush official who is desperate to join the ranks of the unemployed. (Even those who dislike the administration, however, may not want to see a network sitcom go so far out of its way to mock it.)
But as often happens lately, the jokes come at the expense of our attachment to the characters and to the show's fraying links to reality.
The chief blame for the decline rests with Tina Fey and her fictional counterpart, Liz Lemon. At one point tonight, Tracy (Tracy Morgan) asks Liz, "Do you know what it's like to be the only one who cares about your job?"
There was a time when the payoff would have depended on our knowledge that Liz did, indeed, know what that was like. But now it leads to a joke about a missed period — and leads viewers to ask when exactly was the last time Liz showed any interest in her job at all. A woman who at least used to try to make her show better has spent the spring dragging through outlandish romantic entanglements and going ballistic over missing sandwiches.
Liz doesn't have to be sane, but when she's as unstable as the nuts circling around her, you get a show that plays more like a barely related series of sketches than a sitcom.
It's possible that 30 Rock is trying to learn from the failure of Studio 60, which took the efforts involved in producing comedy too seriously. But as is so often the case in life and art, one can also fail by moving too far in the other direction. If the show she's writing doesn't matter, then there's nothing at risk for Liz — and no reason for us to care about Jack's efforts to mentor her, which were once 30 Rock's best asset.
To be sure, this lurch toward absurdity does fit into NBC's current comic style, which tends toward the detached. Then again, that may also explain why a sitcom block that once dominated the night now struggles to reach third place, and frequently falls below even that unimpressive benchmark.
It's a losing game, and 30 Rock used to be too good for it. The writers might want to spend the summer remembering why.
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