I didn't have very long with the "30 Rock" writer-producer; he was in the middle of shooting an episode of the series. But here is the whole thing, unedited.
Q. Why is Massachusetts such a TV comedy hotbed?
A. I don’t know what it is -- the cold and self-loathing, maybe? Or something in the Quabbin Reservoir?
Q. Your father, Roger, emailed me about your local roots. Your parents are proud of you.
A. My PR flack is out there! Don’t tell him those people usually get paid for setting this stuff up. [My parents] are big boosters, they get the Western Massachusetts crowd to watch whether they want to or not.
Q. Do you feel underappreciated on “30 Rock,” not by the Emmys but by the viewing public?
A. We would love to be a giant hit. We’d love to be “Two and a Half Men” or “Friends.” … Of course we would love to be loved, and there’s no effort on our part not to be. We just write what we think is funny and hope as many people will find it as possible.
That said, I’ve really never felt more appreciated. I meet so many more people than I’ve ever experienced -- including on “Friends,” although I was there when maybe people were taking “Friends” for granted, and maybe it was different the first years. Working on this show, my casual interactions have never been better. It gets us through some long nights sometimes.
Q. Do you have a big theory about why the show isn’t a ratings hit?
A. I don’t. When we’re self-critical -- which is all the time, which is our job -- we talk about how the pace is very fast. You can tell three or four stories, there are more scenes than with multi-camera sitcoms, more scenes and cutaways and flashbacks. And there’s the pause that the laugh track gives you, and with single camera you’re going right through it.
In our typical self-critical mood, We talk about trying to slow the pace. Maybe that will make it more accessible to people. But we’re in year four, and I and our writers just don’t write that way. And our actors don’t act that way. The show is what it is.
Q. You’ve been innovative with product placement. Any new approaches on the horizon on “30 Rock”?
A. I don’t think we have anything lined up. We got a lot of attention -- some of it was negative, some appreciated that we were trying to do it in a different way. We try to be careful about what we do because we want to be able to do it on our terms. And we want to try to find a slightly new joke every time. We don’t want to do the same kind of calling-it-out every time.
Q. Did you get any flack from NBC about the Jay Leno joke in the first episode of the season (Jack: “There's nothing wrong with being fun and popular and just giving people what they want. Ladies and gentlemen, Jay Leno.”)
A. It was only meant to be complimentary in our hopes that this whole [“Jay Leno Show”] experiment would work wonderfully. And maybe some day it will. When we shot that, it was August. NBC knew that and understood that. And I only hope that Jay knows that as well. By the time it aired, it came off a little differently. That’s not to say it won’t make sense again. It was never meant to be a criticism.
Q. Many “30 Rock” jokes are about NBC and General Electric. Have they ever asked you not to put something?
A. I don’t think so. They’ve been really good sports. A couple of times. I’ve met [GE CEO] Jeff Immelt and he’s been really complimentary and said how much he appreciates the business-satire aspect of it. I think there was one time when we were talking about a product that we were saying was a GE product and that was hurting people, and they asked us to change the language to make it clear that GE products are well tested.
We felt we had free reign, and they reminded us that we can’t say anything. But they’ve never really stopped us.
Q. Do you have a favorite “30 Rock” character to write for?
A. The great thing about this show is that it’s more about turning the funnel the other way around. Part of the danger of writing the show is that you need to apply a certain discipline, because you can write any kind of joke and you have the character to say it.
Writing for Alec Baldwin -- I’ll never have an opportunity like that again writing in TV. It’s unbelievable. Writing for Tina Fey, who is a writer, you can approach writing for her in a different way. Not to not answer your question -- but what I love about the show is that you can do anything, it changes from minute to minute who the most fun to write for is.
Tracy -- there’s just no voice like that anywhere.
Q. It’s a cliché, but he could make the phonebook funny.
A. He falls into funny. When we’re able to find ways to structure that, it’s a pretty fun combination. I worked with him at “Saturday Night Live.”
Q. Is it hard to rein him in?
A. Year four, we’ve all learned things. It’s never been a question of reining him in. There’s a layer of outrageousness to him which is natural, so you can give him almost straight points of view.
In an upcoming episode that were shooting now, the show goes to Boston. Jack, in pursuit of a lady, needs an excuse to go to Boston, so he makes Liz take the show up there, the way Conan took his show to Boston once and Letterman used to go to Chicago. And Tracy, trying not to get in trouble on the road, goes on a walking tour that’s led by a guy dressed as John Hancock, and he gets in a fight about history with John Hancock and that carries through. We were reading these lines earlier today, where he’s comparing the problem Liz is having to revolutionary politics. He’s talking about Lexington and Concord and its just completely straight. Its Tracy Jordan making an analogy about the American Revolution. That’s the fun.
He is so out there, you don’t rein him in, you play him as straight as you can.
Q. Will you be shooting here at all?
A. Unfortunately no. We’ve done some silly things -- we used Manhattan as Cleveland before, so I think the West Village will play as our scenes of Boston. But its mostly inside.
Q. Did you put anything personal in the script?
A. We have this jerk who lives in Waltham because I was born in Waltham. And lots of sports stuff. That was most of my childhood, growing up with those ‘80s Celtics.
Q. Any plot twists you want to give away?
A. Nothing I can get into, except for the second half of the season we want to get back into the characters personal lives. We had a lot of work stuff to deal with from the end of last year, and there’s some fun relationship stuff coming up for Jack and Liz.
Q. You’re not ever going to put Jack and Liz together romantically, are you? It was looking like you might at the end of last week’s episode.
A. No. that was our romantic moment with Jack and Liz, I promise. It’s too fraught. That scene at the end of the last episode, their work romance, that’s as close as well ever get.
There’s a community online that wants it. What that says is that there’s this dynamic there, this chemistry, that we try to exploit in every other way. If you ever went to that [romantic] place, you would diffuse a lot of it, or all of it. When you step back and look at the characters, I don’t think that’s what either of them is looking for. They’ll both find somebody eventually. He’ll give her away at her wedding.
Q. They will each find somebody?
A. Eventually, yeah. That’s the whole goal.
About Viewer Discretion
ContributorsKatie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.
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