In the US: NBC, Wednesdays, 8/7c
In the UK: Nowhere yet. But it will.
So here’s weird. On Monday night on NBC, we have a show, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, that looks behind the scenes of a fictitious comedy sketch show. Meanwhile, on Wednesdays, over on… well, still on NBC, we have 30 Rock, which, erm, looks behind the scenes of a fictitious comedy sketch show.
The first is by award-winning writer Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing. The second is by Saturday Night Live alumnus, Tina Fey. Which one’s going to be better? Go on, go on. Which one, which one?
Oddly enough, 30 Rock is the anti-Studio 60. It’s half an hour long instead of an hour (“Half the numbers, half the run time!”), for one thing.
But it’s also the less optimistic version of the mirror universe Studio 60, which believes that talent and vision, particularly among Ivy League graduates, will fix all know problems and the great American public will back them up. While Studio 60 features a sketch show that’s fallen on hard times and that’s rescued by a visionary TV executive (Amanda Peet) and a new pair of producers (Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford), 30 Rock looks at a successful comedy show, “The Girlie Show”, that’s doing just fine under the guidance of its head writer (Tina Fey) and producer Pete (Scott Adsit). And then it all goes wrong.
That’s because of the arrival of an evil executive (Alec Baldwin), who’s responsible for “East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming” (he also specialises in ovens). He thinks the show needs a new addition to the cast, headed by Jane Krakowski from Ally McBeal, in order to grab that vital, male, 18-49 demographic. Since he shared a private jet with him once, he picks the slightly insane Tracy Jordan (played by… Tracy Morgan, another Saturday Night Live graduate), best known for that movie where he dressed up as a grandmother and for running around in his underwear on the freeway, wielding a light sabre.
There are other mirror-image similarities. Studio 60‘s biggest problem is that while the drama is fine, the comedy sketches are pretty bad most of the time. 30 Rock faces the reverse problem: the comedy sketches are, unsurprisingly, pretty good, thanks to Fey’s influence and it’s full of absolutely cracking one-liners, most of them Alec Baldwin’s (“I like you. You have the boldness of a much younger woman”); it’s just the drama that provides the difficulty. Despite its short runtime, the middle half of the show seemed to drag as Fey is forced to get to know Morgan as he takes her from restaurant to diner to strip joint to childhood home.
I’m hoping the mix is going to improve, just as Studio 60‘s did, but to answer that all-important question I posed earlier, I’d say that 30 Rock is actually the better of the two. It’s not quite as rushed, not so full of its own self-importance, and you actually do have on-screen evidence of the supposed funniness of the show. That’s not to put down Studio 60, which has got much better since its pilot episode and is definitely worth watching: it’s just 30 Rock isn’t such an acquired taste and manages to make its points without beating you round the head.
On the other hand, I’ll wait until the third episode before giving you a final verdict on whether it’s worth watching all the way through, since the drama side of things is definitely proving its Achilles’ Heel at the moment.
Incidentally, if you’re wondering why it’s called 30 Rock, it’s because NBC’s New York studios are at 30 Rockefeller Center aka the GE Building.
There are simply loads of clips, trailers and behind-the-scenes stuff over on YouTube, but this is probably the best of them:
Tina Fey (Liz Lemon)
Tracy Morgan (Tracy Jordan)
Jane Krakowski (Jenna DeCarlo)
Scott Adsit (Pete)
Jack McBrayer (Kenneth)
Alec Baldwin (Jack)
Judah Friedlander (Frank)
Katie Bowden (Cerie)
Keith Powell (Toofer)
Lonny Ross (Josh)