Comedy series 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt creator Tina Fey recently joined Conan O’Brien on his podcast to talk about her projects, past and present. Fey told the late-night talk show host how she was able to keep 30 Rock from being canceled, considering the show had fairly low viewership. She also admitted, in her hilarious book of autobiographical essays, Bossypants, that she has an “embarrassing” secret about her NBC comedy series. It’s something she has never told anyone.
In the age of network television, Fey’s comedy series was ‘not a hit’
Fey joked in Bossypants that her wacky workplace comedy 30 Rock was “the 102nd most popular television show of 2006.” Her show did not exactly kill it in the ratings department.
“About five and a half million people” were watching the series, Fey wrote. But for network TV, “that counts as nothing.” The hit series Friends “had about 25 million viewers” at its biggest, as a comparison.
“We were not a hit,” Fey wrote. “But we barreled ahead.” The 30 Rock writers and producers took a “we’ll-try-anything” approach to creating the episodes.
“You know that saying ‘dance as if no one is watching’?” she wrote in the book. “Well, that’s what we were doing. We were dancing with abandon, and no one was watching.”
The ‘Modern Love’ star said ’30 Rock’ was a ‘SeaWorld show’
Fey also talked O’Brien on his podcast Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend about “dancing with abandon. She told him the writers’ room “jumped the shark immediately.”
“We became basically a SeaWorld show about how many sharks one could jump,” Fey joked. She and the other writers were open to the wackiest ideas because they thought everyone was watching Aaron Sorkin’s show, Studio 60.
“No one’s paying attention to us … because everyone’s paying attention to Studio 60,” Fey said about the early days of 30 Rock. “We can just keep putting too many jokes in a five-pound bag.”
However, packing all those jokes in that bag in season 1 paid off. 30 Rock won an Emmy in their first year for Outstanding Comedy Series, and the show ended up running seven seasons on NBC. (Studio 60 was canceled after one season.)
Tina Fey admits she has a ’30 Rock’-sized scar that hasn’t quite healed
Fey wrote in her book Bossypants, which was published in 2011, that she had hidden something up her sleeve about 30 Rock. She admitted to having an “embarrassing secret [she] must reveal.”
“Something I have never admitted to anyone,” she continued. Fey made sure to mention that she’s happy that “critics and hipsters” liked 30 Rock. Those two groups showered affection on the show, “and we are grateful,” Fey wrote. But that wasn’t exactly the goal.
“We were actually trying to make a hit show,” Fey admitted, not “a low-rated critical darling that snarled in the face of conventionality,” she wrote, mocking the way reviewers often described 30 Rock.
“We were trying to make Home Improvement, and we did it wrong,” Fey lamented, followed by another perfect analogy: “We were trying to make Viagra, and we ended up with blood pressure medicine.” The 30 Rock showrunner said that nothing they attempted changed a thing.
“No matter how many times we tried to course-correct … to make it more accessible–slow the dialogue down, tell fewer stories per episode, stop putting people in blackface–the show would end up careening off the rails,” Fey wrote.
Tina Fey credits the cast (particularly Alec Baldwin) for getting picked up for the rest of season 1
The Mean Girls screenwriter also wrote that season 1, episode 11 was referred to by the writers as “Goodbye America,” because they didn’t think 30 Rock had a shot at getting picked up again. Members of the crew, Fey explained, were already “calling around looking for their next job.” But the network renewed them for the rest of the seasons.
Fey said her “proudest moment as an adult was walking back onto the soundstage … and telling everyone they still had jobs.”
She wrote in Bossypants, “I may never know why they chose to keep the show going.” But in the audiobook version, she interrupts herself to say under her breath, “Alec Baldwin.”
Still, Fey says she wouldn’t change it for the world.
“I love my weird little show,” she wrote. “I think the show was put on earth to teach me patience and compassion.”
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