A '30 Rock' solid plan: Live, from New York, it's Thursday night!

The comedienne and actress will receive the Kennedy Center's top prize for American humor this year.
By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, October 14, 2010

When Tina Fey goes live with her NBC comedy series "30 Rock" on Thursday, it's going to attract one of the show's biggest crowds -- if not the biggest -- of this season.

We're not talking Sarah Palin big -- like the 2008 season debut, which coincided with Fey's gig playing the then-GOP vice presidential candidate on "SNL." That "30 Rock" season opener attracted a record 9 million people.

But NBC would like to see a nice jump from, say, the 5 million who watched the previous week's episode of its Thursday comedy series, about the gang that produces the fake weekly live TV show "TGS" for NBC.

These days, prime-time TV shows spend a lot of time and energy trolling for ways to congregate as many of their fans as possible -- people who like the show and would watch it if only they were not so busy with work, with kids, with something new they want to sample on another channel, with that new video game they want to try, that movie they've downloaded, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

And because there are only so many NBC shows that Betty White can show up on, "30 Rock" had to look around for a different bright, shiny object with which to attract the attention of viewers and the press.

Based on the media's drooling over this live episode all week: Mission accomplished!

For public consumption, Thursday's live episode idea springs from the live staged reading that "30 Rock" gave at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York, as a fundraiser for the Writers Guild strike fund, when the show was shuttered during the writers' strike.

Of course, that was in the fall -- of 2007. But anyway, the press gobbled up the story.

And since so many members of the "30 Rock" gang come from an "SNL" live-TV background (Fey, perennial guest host Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, executive producer Lorne Michaels, etc.) or a Broadway background (Jane Krakowski), doing a live episode is not such a huge stretch.

Anyway, the conceit of this week's episode is that the writers and cast of "TGS" are actually going to be seen, finally, putting on one of their live shows. Only Morgan's starring character, Tracy Jordan, decides to cut up during the live telecast and hilarity ensues. And, of course, Fey's head-writer character, Liz Lemon, is going to be all angsty, what with it being her 40th birthday.

Live prime-time episodes are nothing new at NBC -- it's straight out of the company playbook.

Way back in September of 1997, NBC's "ER" season debut was performed live. It averaged 42.7 million viewers. Which, by the way, was only 22 percent better than the non-live season-debut audience of 35 million one year earlier. Yes, that's how many people used to watch NBC in the pre-Jeff Zucker days.

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