Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin
"In five years, we'll all either be working for him... or be dead by his hand."
It's been more than five years since Jack (Alec Baldwin) uttered those foreboding words about Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) on 30 Rock, but now that the NBC comedy is heading into its seventh and final season (Thursday at 8/7c), one of those predictions may just come true.
"We certainly have not forgotten about that," co-showrunner and executive producer Robert Carlock tells TVGuide.com. "I think it would be disappointing if one of those didn't happen. There are so many things we want to do before it's over."
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But there's so little time. The three-time Emmy winner for Best Comedy Series will return for a shortened 13-episode run — or a "full-out sprint," as Carlock calls it. "When we were doing 22 episodes, there are sort of three phases you go through. One usually takes you through about 10 or 11 episodes. There's a sprint to that with an arc, then there's a wait and you usually do your weirder episodes while you're treading water, and then you have your sprint toward the end. This is just a full-out sprint. We're trying to make sure we carve out room to tell 30 Rock stories and we've got to try to bring down safely every one of the plates we've got spinning. That's fun and a little daunting."
The show certainly has a lot of ground to cover in its final episodes, after the end of Season 6 found Jack and Avery (Elizabeth Banks) splitting up, Jenna (Jane Krakowski) and Paul (Will Forte) getting engaged, and Liz (Tina Fey) deciding to have a child with Criss (James Marsden). So what will happen to the gang this year?
1. Happily ever after? Things always end up with a big, fat "blerg!" for Liz when she tries to get her life together and/or realize her dreams, but good things come to those who wait, right? "We believe in happy endings. We just like to make them as weird as possible," Carlock says. "Our intention is that Criss is The One." But, he cautions, they haven't decided how the show will end and haven't locked in Marsden for a set number of episodes yet. "We just shot one with him so far and it's largely about Liz's puritan feelings about sex colliding with the practical necessity of trying to have a baby. She makes a big and hopefully unexpected breakthrough on that front. Hopefully that'll be satisfying to see Liz Lemon in her own weird way embrace her sexuality. It's a little frightening, especially for Criss. It's scary, but it's about time. She's growing up."
2. And a baby makes three? Carlock remains coy about exactly whose offspring or what was in that bundle of joy Fey was snapped carrying on set. (Hey, it could be Planty. "He got knocked over, but he was repaired, I'm sure.") But he admits that the writers let Liz's motherhood dreams "fall to the wayside" over the years. "We started [the baby stuff] in Season 2 in part to say, 'Hey, keep us on the air. We've got great emotional stuff coming up!' And we managed to stay on the air for four more years. We as writers felt like we hadn't done our job in showing that aspect of what Liz wants, so we do want to right that." Plus, he adds: "Tina expressly never wanted Liz to have a kid until the end just because it's hard to work with a kid, so now we can."
3. Liz + Jack = No way! Sorry, Liz and Jack, fans. They are unequivocally never getting together. "It just speaks to how well they work together on screen because there's nothing rational about wanting them to be together," Carlock says. "It's great chemistry and we've always tried to find weird ways to get them 'together.' Kathy Geist made them kiss at one point and they were accidentally married on the island. That was our way of saying, 'This is probably as close as we're going to get, folks. But 'ship away as long as you're watching and buying our advertisers' products.' I love the slash fiction. It's all very entertaining."
4. The great escape: Now that Jack is single, he's going to do what he calls "Great Escape-ing," (a la the movie The Great Escape), in which he has a different girlfriend for every need. "You might imagine what those needs are in your own spare time," Carlock says. But Jack will also be plotting an actual escape — from Kabletown. "GE was always the dream, and Jack is still trying to build some semblance out of that dream," he says. "You will see Jack's most daring business plan yet with his attempt to escape the bondage at Kabletown." And no, it will have nothing to do with the couches.
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5. "A-list" wedding: Count on seeing Jenna and Paul tie the knot in a "weird and peculiar" (what else?) ceremony that, if all goes according to Jenna's plan, will be a true celebrity wedding. "Jenna is upset because she discovers that most celebrities have surprise weddings, especially the bigger you are, you have a secret wedding, like Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds just did," Carlock says. "So she becomes a little paralyzed in terms of actually having it happen because she's trying to make sure that it's a surprise and a secret. That leads to her making it hopefully the biggest surprise possible. We haven't quite had the decoy bride discussion yet. She also wants the attention so badly. It's hard for her." As for her maid of honor, Liz, she will throw the lamest bachelorette party ever in hopes of relieving herself of the duty.
6. Tracy Jordan's House of Payne: Tracy will follow through in his season finale epiphany to be the next Tyler Perry, which means he was quite busy during summer hiatus. "He made 12 movies over the summer, just cranking them out — his Madea run," Carlock says. "We'll see some of them hopefully. But he will likely get in way over his head."
7. Stone Mountain comes to New York: Kenneth will get a visit from his mother (Catherine O'Hara) and stepfather Ron (Bryan Cranston) — excuse us, his mom's friend. "Kenneth would never say 'stepfather,'" Carlock says. "They're ultimately part of a Jenna story, but it's about Kenneth coming to grips with Ron as a part of his life. Our version of Stone Mountain and our descriptions of his family are insane. We're pretty sure that Kenneth is some sort of immortal being inhabiting that body." Well, he is more than 200 years old.
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8. Eye candy: The guys are taking it off this year — or mostly Ryan Lochte is. The Olympic champ will make a cameo as a "sex idiot" who doesn't wear a shirt underneath his jacket. "Inevitably the man himself understandably doesn't see the need for one. So between takes, he would just take the jacket off and sit around with no shirt on," Carlock says. "[Producer/writer] Jack Burditt was on set that day and he was like, 'It just makes me feel terrible. Ryan Lochte with his shirt off — why did we write this?!' He won't be the only one showing skin: "Criss' shirt comes off and Tracy takes his shirt off, which is almost better than Ryan. It's going to be a good one for the ladies."
9. Monkey business: No, it's not an ode to Monkey Hospital Animal Practice, but we will see a primate in an episode. "Tracy says a thing that dumb people keep saying, which is women aren't funny. He says to Liz, 'I don't understand what the problem is, I say that all the time,'" Carlock teases. "Then he gets into an argument about whether monkeys are funnier than women, and Liz finds herself trying to prove that she's funnier than a monkey. We're always so topical!"
10. Old faces: 30 Rock has amassed quite the collection of guest stars in the past six years — and Carlock wants all of them back. "I want the last shot to be everyone who's ever been on the show. I also want to see all of Liz's ex-boyfriends — Dennis Duffy and Dr. Drew get in a fight," he says. "But they might all have to do it for free. SAG might not let them." If they had to choose though, they're hoping to get Banks, Will Arnett (Devon Banks), Chloe Grace Moretz (Kaylie Hooper), Elaine Stritch (Colleen) and Sherri Shepherd (Angie) back for one more go-around.
"There are so many people we want back and so much we want to do," Carlock says. "The [planning] board will be covered with dashed dreams. We're in the place of just cramming what we thought were stories into jokes, which we've always kind of done. We just did a passing joke that has nothing to do with the story that had Liz finding out that all of Criss' ex-girlfriends are African-American. We saw that being a story at one point, so there'll be more seemingly throwaway lines like that. The season is going to be a bouillon cube of enjoyment."
30 Rock premieres Thursday at 8/7c on NBC.