Sorry fellas, but the smartest guy in the room has always been Tina Fey.
The television comedy tsar Lorne Michaels knows this indisputable truth — he anointed her head writer and cast member of his cultural flagship, Saturday Night Live, for nine seasons before she graduated to her own half-hour sitcom, 30 Rock, for which he gladly serves as executive producer.
Fey is the cerebral but sassy girl we wish we could have grown up with, lived next door to, sat beside in school, toiled with at work or honed our wits with as Best Friends Forever. Sadly, unless your name’s Amy Poehler, the odds of becoming her BFF are slim to none – but we can all experience the feral, vicarious fun of being in Fey’s inner circle by catching her in action in the sixth season of 30 Rock.
As the variety show producer Liz Lemon, her lunatic behind-the-scenes look at TV-land sees her ricochet wildly off of her arrogant, interfering network boss Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) and become entangled in the antics of her emotionally needy star Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) as she gamely attempts to salvage her own personal life.
While the new season is starting a few months later than usual, the longer hiatus did give her cast generous time to recharge their batteries as Fey gave birth to her second daughter in August.
“Liz is in a good place at the beginning of the season,” says Fey. “She does have a new love interest, which is nice, because we’re sort of jumping in, in the middle. Since our show’s coming back in the middle of the TV season, why not just start in the middle? We don’t know how I met him. We don’t know where he came from. I have a really handsome boyfriend. Don’t question it. Don’t over-think it. He’s played by James Marsden who’s been nothing but a delight and really funny.”
“One thing that never changes is that Liz is helpless when it comes to picking men. She’s really completely pathetic,” says Baldwin. “We brought in Marsden. James is an incredibly good-looking leading man in the movie business – and Lemon is going to find a way to completely fumble that ball on the five-yard line, too. It’s just her way ... She’s going to ‘Lemon’ that one, too. But who knows, he may be the guy who puts the slipper on ... and it fits.”
Baldwin, who has won two Emmys and three Golden Globes for his star turn, also embraces a weird and wonderful storyline this season – kept apart from his TV wife, played by Elizabeth Banks.
“As everyone in America, if not around the world, knows, my wife Avery has been kidnapped by Kim Jong-il. And I’m with my daughter, Liddy. I’m a single dad living in New York.”
At the end of last season, Jong-il (Margaret Cho) forced Avery to wed his son, Kim Jong-un. Of course, real life threw a spanner into the storyline works when the North Korean dictator died in December – and it will be fascinating to see how Fey’s writers deal with that this season.
“A lot of things are going to happen this season apropos of my wife being gone that present me with some very unusual situations,” says Baldwin. “I can’t get into the details, but it involves a lot of inappropriate things. But it wouldn’t be 30 Rock if we didn’t have people doing things that they shouldn’t be doing.”
Rounding out the oddball 30 Rock cast are: Jane Krakowski (as variety show co-star Jenna Maroney); Scott Adsit (as variety show producer Pete Hornberger); Jack McBrayer (as Kenneth, the overeager and effortlessly endearing NBC page); Judah Friedlander (as Frank, the sardonic slacker on the writing staff); and Keith Powell (as Toofer, the urbane yet sarcastic Harvard-alumnus writer).
Krakowski shines in the season opener, Dance Like Nobody’s Watching, as the cruellest judge for a new TV talent show, America’s Kidz Got Singing, where famously cranky John McEnroe is considered “the nice one” on the panel. She demolishes one child performer with her comment: “Did you ever put out a cigar on Gilbert Gottfried’s neck? Because I have, and his screams were the worst thing I ever heard ... until tonight. Congratulations! You’re a disgrace!”
Only a few months ago, fans feared that Baldwin wouldn’t be back, as his five-year contract had expired, and that Morgan, who got into hot water for an anti-gay rant at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, might be sacked from 30 Rock.
Last autumn NBC quietly renewed Baldwin’s contract for two more years, while Morgan apologised.
All this controversy, of course, makes Fey a lucky executive producer: “Our cast does a great job of keeping the show in the news!”
As well, really funny people want to be part of this really funny show. “When we have guests come on, my jaw hits the floor when they tell me who it is,” says Baldwin. Keep an eye open this season for Kelsey Grammer, Will Arnett and Denise Richards. In addition, Hollywood funny man Jim Carrey was spotted running around the Big Apple shirtless with an enormous moustache.
Life has been sweet for Fey, who is raising two daughters with her husband, Jeff Richmond, in New York. As well as her big-screen exploits – co-starring in Baby Mama with gal pal Amy Poehler and Date Night opposite Steve Carrell – her first book, Bossypants topped the New York Times bestseller list last year and remained there for 33 weeks.
“30 Rock has exceeded any of our wildest dreams to have crossed the 100-episode mark,” says Fey, “to have had all the guest stars that we’ve had now going to six years, and to now see it in syndication for my mum to be able to watch the show five times a day on various channels. It’s a good feeling.”
30 Rock begins its sixth season on Friday. It is broadcast on Friday and Saturday on OSN Comedy and OSN Comedy +2
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