By Paula Hendrickson
After spending several years at Saturday Night Live as both head writer and cast member, Tina Fey knows more about pulling off a live TV show than any ordinary writer/actress. That’s why it was no surprise she went on to create and star in 30 Rock, an unconventional sitcom about the behind-the-scenes antics of a team of writers, stars, executives and support staff charged with putting on a weekly live television show.
This week, 30 Rock is going one step further—they’re airing this Thursday’s (Oct. 14) episode live. Twice. First, for the Eastern half of the country (including us), and three hours later, for the Western states. Within a couple days, you’ll be able to view both versions at nbc.com.
Like Fey, who plays TGS’s head writer Liz Lemon, much of the cast has plenty of live experience: Tracy Morgan (“Tracy Jordan”) is also an SNL alum, and co-star Alec Baldwin (“Jack Donaghy”) has hosted SNL so many times he’s probably an honorary cast member by now. Jane Krakowski (“Jenna Maroney”) has strong background in live theater, and other cast members—including Jack McBrayer (“Kenneth”) and Scott Adsit (“Pete”)—got their starts doing improv. Guest stars for the live event are expected to include frequent guests Jon Hamm as Liz’s ex, Drew; Matt Damon as Liz’s current boyfriend, Carol; Elizabeth Banks as Jack’s fianceé, Avery; Sherri Shepherd as Tracy’s wife, Angie; and Will Forte as Jenna’s female-impersonator boyfriend, Paul. Who knows, there could a few surprise guests, too, if actors’ schedules allow.
Since 30 Rock is set at (and named for) NBC headquarters at Manhattan’s 30 Rockefeller Center and TGS—the show within the show—is loosely based on SNL, it’s natural the live episode will be broadcast from SNL’s infamous Studio 8-H in Rockefeller Center.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the cast and crew will be timing. With a 90-minute sketch comedy show like SNL, there’s a tiny bit of leeway—they can cut or add material at the last second. But 30 Rock is a half-hour show, which translates into roughly 22 minutes of airtime. There is no room for error. Now, factor in that the show is not normally taped in front of a live audience and that its breakneck speed allows them to cram in lots of sight gags and pile jokes on top of jokes with barely time for a breath, let alone laughter. What happens to their timing when the audience won’t stop laughing?
Given the talented cast and crew, whatever happens, it’s sure to be a memorable night. Not everyone can view, or wants to view, television shows online, so I hope one day soon NBC will air both live versions of this week’s 30 Rock back to back. I’d tune in. Wouldn’t you?
The live episode of 30 Rock airs Thursday, Oct. 14, at 7:30 p.m. on NBC.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Send in your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Oct. 13-19, 2010 issue