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Tina Fey: Tea, toast and 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt'

"30 Rock" creator happy to be behind the camera as her new comedy comes to Netflix.


TINA FEY'S break, such as it was, is over.

Sometime between the end of "30 Rock" and this week's debut, on Netflix, of her new comedy "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," Fey - or, as she's known in these parts, "Upper Darby's Tina Fey" - claims to have had "a great six months where [she and "Kimmy" co-creator Robert Carlock] just went to that office every day and made tea and had toast and then went home."

But "those days are already gone again," she said, laughing, during an interview in January.

NBC, which paid for the office, and maybe the tea and toast, through Fey's development deal with Universal Television, asked the pair to consider writing a show for Ellie Kemper ("The Office").

"They knew that she was special, and she was the first actor that we said, 'Yeah, maybe we would like to. Give us a couple of weeks to think about it,' " Fey said.

"And we thought about Ellie . . . She has this kind of inherent sunniness and optimism, but also strength. She's physically fit and strong and we've seen her do, like, physical-comedy bits where she's really agile. And so this mix led us on this path of like, 'OK, what kind of woman could she be?' We pitched: Is she a woman who has been in a coma for 15 years? We kept wanting versions of, like, a clean slate."

Plus, "these things, you know, keep happening. They happen all over the world, this thing of women being tricked, or lured, or sister-wived."

Which is how they settled on a show about an Indiana woman (Kemper) who's spent 15 years imprisoned in an underground bunker by the leader of a doomsday cult and who, upon being rescued, decides to start a new life in New York City.

Did I mention it's a comedy?

"I thought they were joking," Kemper said, later. "How is that going to be funny? But then they weren't joking, and the show is very funny, and it does not make light of the horrible situation that has brought us here. I think, instead, it chooses to focus on what happens after that."

Which is also what Fey's doing.

Not that anything horrible happened in the "Kimmy Schmidt" transition from NBC to Netflix.

"If you could help us dispel the notion that this show was pre-canceled, that would be great," Fey said. "Because it would have aired on NBC had we not made this deal. Would it have died on the vine? Possibly."

Instead, their agreement with Netflix guarantees a second season - the first 13 episodes, which all premiere Friday, were nearly finished when the deal came together - and a reprieve from the Nielsens.

Netflix, I noted, doesn't disclose how many people watch its shows. "I know. It's wonderful," said Fey.

"The whole world [could be watching the show] as far as we know," added Carlock.

"We'd know if it was the whole world," murmured Fey.

She believes that binge-watchers were always part of the "30 Rock" fan base. "But it will be nice not to have to what we call 'repilot' every week. . . . With Netflix, if someone's watching Episode 5, you can be pretty confident that it's because they've watched Episodes 1 through 4."

Fey didn't set out to make "30 Rock," adored by critics and Emmy voters, a cult hit ("we were trying to make 'Home Improvement,' and we missed"), but this time, she's happy to occupy a niche.

"Now everything is niche," she said. "And it's a different marketplace.

"It's like if you went to a grocery store that just had apples. No, you can get pears now. You can get, like, a fig if you want to."

Or you can make a show with, as Fey put it, "nice, talented people," like Jane Krakowski, of "30 Rock," who gets to explore a different flavor of needy neuroticism in "Kimmy Schmidt" as Kimmy's boss.

And Carlock, who first worked with Fey on "Saturday Night Live." "Robert produced the 'Weekend Update' with me and Jimmy [Fallon]," Fey said.

After that, Carlock said, "I moved to L.A. with my family [working on "Friends" and "Joey"], and then the phone rang" and he moved back to work with Fey on "30 Rock."

"Cabot College," a pilot the pair produced that was written by "30 Rock" alum Matt Hubbard, died at Fox, but last month ABC ordered another comedy pilot from the trio featuring "Cabot" co-star Fortune Feimster, reports Deadline.

It is, for the most part, Fey said, the work life she envisioned for herself after "30 Rock," though she'd hoped "to cut the hours back, which we have not successfully done."

For now, she seems content not to be writing and starring in a show.

"You play one character for seven years, I feel like it's a lot to ask people to see you immediately as another character. And also, just to not be in the makeup chair every day . . . it's not a bad idea."

Phone: 215-854-5950

On Twitter: @elgray