Stop us if you've heard this one before, but tonight at 8 pm/ET, NBC is premiering a new series about backstage life at a Saturday Night Live-type comedy show. But unlike Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Tina Fey's 30 Rock is playing the situation purely (and effectively) for laughs. As you get ready to sample Fey's take on things also starring frequent SNL host Alec Baldwin as a cocky NBC-GE exec, Ally McBeal's Jane Krakowski as Tina's gal pal and Tracy Morgan as an out-there comic allow us to separate 30 Rock's myths from its realities.
MYTH: When NBC picked up Studio 60, Tina Fey thought 30 Rock was dead in the water.
REALITY: No, but others did. "I had friends coming up to me saying, 'Oh, I'm so sorry [NBC] isn't going to do your show,'" Fey recalls. "And within that same day, [NBC Entertainment prez] Kevin Reilly called me at home to assure me that he still believes in both shows. I took the man's word and so far, so good."
MYTH: If you've seen Studio 60, you needn't watch 30 Rock.
REALITY: As Matthew Perry's Chandler Bing might say, "Could the shows be any more different?" Seriously, it's like Scrubs and ER. Barney Miller versus NYPD Blue. As Fey puts it, "We are a comedy, and they basically are a drama. Yes, old people are going to get confused. Your grandma is going to be confused." Her handy tip: "Look for Alec Baldwin. If you can find Alec Baldwin, you have us."
MYTH: Fellow SNLer Rachel Dratch was canned as the star of 30 Rock's show-within-a-show, "The Girlie Show."
REALITY: Yes, Jane Krakowski is now the lead "Girlie," but Dratch will live on, and in most unusual ways. Says Fey, "She plays a cat wrangler in the pilot, and then she'll come back another week as a different character, and then a week or two after that as another character." The reason for the switcheroo? Read on....
MYTH: 30 Rock's "Girlie Show" is funnier than SNL.
REALITY: We may never know. "We're not really going to see sketches on the show," says Fey. "We're going to see the lives of these characters that work at the show, but I don't think we will hardly ever see sketches. Once we realized that, we wanted to take Rachel and use her differently, as a series of characters."
MYTH: With Dratch and Tracy Morgan already on board, 30 Rock has closed the door to other SNL vets.
REALITY: Not by a long shot. "Chris Parnell is going to do a guest spot on, I think, Episode 6 he's super-funny and I would love to have Horatio [Sanz] sometime. I love to work with family."
MYTH: Alec Baldwin was a must-get to play Tina's 30 Rock boss.
REALITY: "I wrote the part with Alec in mind," says Fey, "and I never dreamed that we would really get him. Then, miraculously, we did. I've seen Alec be so very, very funny over the years that he hosted SNL. He has tremendous comedy skill."
MYTH: Baldwin's boorish exec is based on a real-life NBC mucky-muck.
REALITY: "I don't really hang out with a lot of GE executives, so there's really no way for me to base it on those guys," says Fey. "It will be interesting to see if some of the guys upstairs think it's them. No matter who asks, I'm going to say 'Yes, this is based on you,' because then they'll keep watching."
MYTH: On that same note, Tracy Morgan's outrageous stand-up comic is based on Dave Chappelle.
REALITY: "I won't say I don't know Dave I've barely ever met him but I do know Tracy," says Fey. "I would say that [the character] is primarily Tracy, if Tracy were nuts, more than anybody else. Anything any celebrity does, let alone an African-American celebrity, is going to be fair game for Tracy to do."
MYTH: When a crazy celeb headline hits, Fey misses Weekend Update.
REALITY: "Yes, sometimes," she admits. "Nothing specific lately, but a lot of times at SNL we'd be off the whole summer and crazy stuff would happen, like Martha Stewart getting arrested, and I couldn't believe we were off!"
MYTH: Tina Fey doesn't have an all-time favorite SNL sketch.
REALITY: Oh, but she does. Alas, it was overshadowed during its debut by... oh, we'll let her tell it. "A sketch called "Census," with just Christopher Walken and Tim Meadows, is my favorite that I ever wrote. Unfortunately, it was on the exact same show as "We need more cowbell," so it's long since been forgotten."
Send your comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.