Tina Fey’s new show gives comic twist to workplace

When Tina Fey left Saturday Night Live in July, it was a punch in the public’s gut. We’d come to expect a lot from her as one of the show’s head writers; with her quick wit on Weekend Updates and even her ability to make Lindsay Lohan funny in Mean Girls.

But Fey isn’t going very far. Instead, she is producing, writing and starring in her own sitcom called 30 Rock, which features a comically diverse cast including a few of her old SNL buddies.

“I wanted to write a workplace comedy from the beginning because my work is such an enormous part of my life,” Fey said during a phone conference. “As much as I love Sex and the City, that was not my life. I couldn’t even attempt to write that. All I knew about was going to work and how to get along with people at work.”

While Fey said the idea was somewhat inspired by The Office, this half-hour show’s got a slightly crazier twist. The title is an allusion to NBC’s headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza where SNL is produced, so it’s appropriately based on the backstage goings-on of a live fictional variety program called The Girlie Show (or as Fey wryly calls it, “a neo-feminist re-appropriation of the Fly Girls”).

Fey plays Liz Lemon, the show’s head writer, while the star of The Girlie Show is her best friend Jenna Maroney, a neurotic actress played by Ally McBeal alum Jane Krakowski. Joining in on the fun is former SNL cast mate Rachel Dratch, who will play a bevy of characters throughout the series including a cat-wrangler.

Hilarity ensues when Jack Donaghy, an overbearing network head in the form of Alec Baldwin, tries to take over the show by bringing in an unpredictable movie star named Tracy Jordan, played by Tracy Morgan.

Despite its funny spin on gender roles, Fey hopes that “women want to see women on TV that reflect them and have their intelligence. I’m definitely hoping people don’t want to see women that are super-duper worked out, because I can’t bring that. And I don’t have fake boobs.”

While rough in a few spots, this workplace comedy has a lot of potential and part of this is because Fey smartly took pains to avoid making 30 Rock sketch-based. For Fey, 30 Rock is a big change of pace from the stability of SNL, along with other changes in her life including having a baby, but she said it was time to take some risks.

“It was an appropriate time for me to leave SNL anyway. I felt like a senior and it was time to graduate,” Fey said. “This a great venture and I hope we do it for a long time. If we don’t, I’ll go home and see my kid. It feels like a win-win situation.”

So what can we expect from 30 Rock? Fey hinted at a love interest and some more crazy antics from Tracy Morgan. And, she added, little blue men in spacesuits. The show premieres Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Rafael Sangiovanni can be contacted at r.sangiovanni@umiami.edu.