NBC’s 30 Rock is one of the network’s workplace comedies (including The Office, Parks and Recreation, and Community) with Emmy nominations this year. 30 Rock already has a trio of back-to-back wins in the top comedy category for 2007-2009. But this time the show’s creative team is pushing hard for a directing win for Beth McCarthy for its much-touted live episode. A Saturday Night Live veteran, the helmer sometimes known as McCarthy-Miller is up against the other comedy director nominees Pamela Fryman for How I Met Your Mother and also Michael Alan Spiller, Gail Mancuso and Steven Levitan, all for Modern Family. Deadline TV contributor Diane Haithman talked to creator and star Tina Fey, showrunner Robert Carlock, and Beth McCarthy about their Emmy hopes for 30 Rock this year, whether the Tracy Morgan controversy will be written into the show, and if this will be Alec Baldwin’s final season:
DEADLINE: Do you think that Tracy Morgan’s seemingly anti-gay jokes in his standup routine [“I’ll kill my son if he acts gay”] will hurt the show’s Emmy chances or its reputation in general?
TINA FEY: Because of my real-life pregnancy, we don’t go back on the air until January. I’m hoping that Tracy will have, and the world will have, forgotten about that by then. He from the first has gone around very sincerely and done his best to try to make up for the foolishness.
CARLOCK: He’s horrified and embarrassed. … Certainly if we come home [from the Emmys] empty-handed, I’m not going to blame Tracy.
DEADLINE: Will you write the controversy into the show?
FEY: It’s the kind of story that even if it happened to someone else, we would probably turn it into a Tracy story. So we may use it.
DEADLINE: Is this going to be Alec Baldwin’s last season?
FEY: You know, we’re going to keep talking to him. I think he’s a person who talks sometimes and changes his mind, like any person. But we are going to keep talking to him, and as soon as I know, I will let you know.
MCCARTHY: We are going to make him change his mind.
DEADLINE: Are people gunning for 30 Rock since it’s been on the air since 2006?
TINA FEY: It’s like you’re reading something harshly critical about the show, and you go: ‘This isn’t even a writer, this is an Internet poster,’ and you have to separate yourself. Having worked at Saturday Night Live, you ride the cycle of, ‘We’re discovering it, we hate it, it’s the worst it’s ever been, it’s coming back, we’re rediscovering it.’ You ride that Ferris wheel for years there. It’s a perception that is inevitable, and you just keep doing your work.
ROBERT CARLOCK: We just want Beth to win.
DEADLINE: I know you are lobbying for Beth, but don’t you want the series to win, too?
CARLOCK: We just like to get dressed up and have a drink in a limo, too, so we’ll take all of it.
DEADLINE: Beth, how many times have you been nominated for an Emmy?
MCCARTHY: I think, like, seven. And I will graciously lose again to an episode of Modern Family.
FEY: Because that [mockumentary] style is so hard to shoot.
MCCARTHY: But you know what? I will say I love my category this year. I love all the directors that were nominated this year. There was no, like, ‘huh?’ Everybody is great.
CARLOCK: If somebody beats you, Beth, we’re going to do a live show next year and make them direct it.
DEADLINE: Why did you decide to do a live episode?
FEY: We had done a live episode on stage during the writers’ strike as a fundraiser for our crew. It was very exciting and fun for the actors to have any kind of audience feedback because a lot of us are accustomed to that from other things, like Saturday Night Live. You don’t have a lot of that in single-camera shows. And then we had talked for years about doing it.
CARLOCK: We’ve wanted to crack it for a while, especially with this cast and its theater and improv background. We never wanted it to not feel like the show, which was going to be hard with the fast pace and cutaways and all of that. Fortunately we had Beth to be able to execute it.
BETH MCCARTHY: I usually have to watch 30 Rock twice to get all the jokes – there is a pace that adds to the humor of the show. It’s fairly hard when you’re live to be able to do that quick kind of dialogue and not fall flat on your face.
DEADLINE: Is that because you don’t have the luxury of editing later?
MCCARTHY: Yes. It was crazy. We had seven cameras, but we had a lot of sets and a lot of places. And there were 108 camera shots before the first commercial break.
DEADLINE: Did anything go wrong?
CARLOCK: We went into the first-act break about a minute and a half over. So our old SNL pros, Tina and Alec Baldwin just spoke faster.
DEADLINE: I understand there was also a practical reason for the decision to do a live episode this season – a time crunch.
MCCARTHY: We had an earlier premiere date than we’ve ever had. … We shoot an episode in five or six days and have maybe 21 days to edit the episode, score it, finish it, fix it, and deliver it to the network. In the fall last year that was crunched down to about 12 days or 14 days per episode. For this, there was no post. It didn’t have to be edited. It bought us a week of time to work on the episode that followed it.
DEADLINE: We ran a story on Deadline before the Emmy nominations about which episodes comedy and drama series were submitting for consideration, and, judging from the comments, many readers didn’t think this one was your funniest.
FEY: I think what people are reacting to is that it feels different. From a script point of view, the page count is shorter. The live audience who were in attendance enjoyed it enormously. I think it inevitably just has a different feel to it, and a different kind of joke style. If we ever do it again, maybe we’ll take another step writing-wise toward have the joke style match exactly. But I think there’s a lot of Internet complainers.
DEADLINE: Did you decide to do something different to keep the show fresh after all these years?
MCCARTHY: At 103 episodes, I think it’s OK to take a risk and say, this one is going to be different … and instead of just doing [something] like a clip show that would actually make it easier on ourselves, we always seem to find things that are actually harder than doing the regular show.
DEADLINE: Finally, Tina, are you rooting for Sarah Palin to run for president in 2012?
FEY: I will be very surprised … but I am ready. I know you can’t see me [by phone], but I have the wig on right now.
CARLOCK: Stolen from the Smithsonian.