NEW YORK - Just this spring, the prospects for
appeared grim. The behind-the-scenes look at a late-night sketch-comedy show, whose debut was overshadowed by another NBC series set in a similar milieu, had suffered paltry ratings in its freshman year and appeared on the brink of cancellation.
So no one would blame creator Tina Fey for exulting over her recent change in fortune. After all, not only was her sitcom picked up for a second season (while its dramatic counterpart, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, met an untimely end), but 30 Rock also garnered a whopping 10 Emmy nods, including one for comedy series, making it one of the most-nominated television programs of the last year.
But Fey is not rejoicing quite yet.
"It's very flattering that we're well thought of among our peers," said the show's executive producer and star, who also writes a large share of the episodes. "I'm hoping that maybe this will help other people know that the show even exists, and maybe we'll be able to pick up some viewers."
Last season, the sardonic workplace comedy, which gleefully plays off the dynamics between exasperated head writer Liz Lemon (Fey) and pompous network executive Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), drew glowing reviews but an average viewership of just 5.8 million people.
For Fey, renewal means a chance at a reprieve from the fate of programs such as Arrested Development, whose critical acclaim couldn't stave off cancellation.
"We want the show to be the show that we like, the show that we want to make, but we also want it to be accessible," she said, speaking by phone from the set of her new movie, Baby Mama. "So, definitely, that's one of our goals for this year - to really try to invite people to watch."
While her acting in some early episodes was drubbed by critics, Fey's performance later in the season drew comparisons to Mary Tyler Moore. She ultimately was nominated for an Emmy as lead actress in a comedy series, a category, she said cheerfully, "I do not have a chance in hell of winning." Still, "hopefully, it will legitimize me in some way," said Fey, who also got a nod for comedy writing.
Liz Lemon is based on Fey and the other women she worked with at Saturday Night Live, but she said the character has evolved to be "less and less exactly like me."
"Her day-to-day life is much different than mine," Fey added. "She's just living a life that fortunately I never had to lead. I didn't have to be single in my 30s in New York."
The scenario has proved to be a rich comedy vein as Liz is cast about from one humiliation to another, including an embarrassing relationship with a beeper salesman.
"I hope women especially relate to the fact that we try to keep her pretty realistic and truthful," Fey said. "In some ways, she's the antithesis of a Sex and the City lady, in that she's not constantly in fabulous environments with beautiful people hooking up. Watching that show about midgets and eating a block of cheese is a big night."
Any chance that Liz will get a break next season, enjoy some kind of personal victory?
"I'm hoping not," Fey said firmly. "I like her better when she's down."