Tina Fey remains a one-woman comedy industry who has done it entirely on her own terms in making the jump from Saturday Night Live to primetime and film. Her 30 Rock enters its 5th season this fall, having earned 3 consecutive Emmys for top comedy and landing Fey 5 Emmys for her producing, writing and acting. (She’s won 7 Emmys in all.) She finds herself nominated for 4 more this year for writing, acting and producing on 30 Rock as well as for a guest actress stint on SNL. Fey spoke with Ray Richmond for Deadline Hollywood along with her 30 Rock co-showrunner Robert Carlock, himself a 3-time Emmy winner, about why it’s never wise to feel too comfortable at the top and how Tina can get sympathy from Oscar voters:
Deadline Hollywood: Isn’t there a point where all of these accolades get a little bit embarrassing already?
Tina Fey: Well, I’m in a constant state of embarrassment as it is. So it’s just about finding a way to translate all of that anxiety into creativity.
Robert Carlock: We all carry a sense of impending failure over here
TF: In fact, even while we’re failing, we feel a sense of greater failure in the offing. In my mind, I hit the bottom of a canyon, the bottom drops out, and then there’s another canyon below it, beckoning.
RC: Then we start to fall up from the earth’s core. No seriously, I mean, we feel a responsibility to set the bar really high for ourselves so we don’t disappoint the people who really love 30 Rock, or the people who work on it.
DH: Do you worry there may be a backlash coming, that after all of the success you’ve had, voters will finally say, “Enough. Time for a little payback”?
TF: I’m always very aware of the fact it can’t always be our turn, that I’m not always going to be getting a free trip to Los Angeles. But to me, not winning wouldn’t really count as a backlash. If you’d like to see an actual backlash, there are some websites I can direct you to.
DH: You’re saying you never sit at home, gazing into a mirror, thinking, “Wow. I AM all that!”?
TF: No one is all that. No one is any of that. With all of the things I have to do during the day, there’s just no time for feeling great about myself and how amazingly charming and witty I am. It also wouldn’t be a good idea to just sit around and navel gaze. But I have to tell you that I have been thinking of ways to drum up new sympathy among Emmy voters.
DH: What have you come up with?
TF: Well, I have this kind of weird rash on my right leg at the moment. And there’s some joint pain, too. Isn’t it about time that a woman with a rash on her leg and pain in her joints wins an Emmy? I don’t think it’s ever happened. I’d be proud to be the first.
DH: Do you identify more with being a writer, a producer, or an actress?
TF: I identify with being a writer-producer.
RC: I see myself as an actress.
DH: You guys are doing a live episode on October 14th. How did that come to be?
TF: During the writers strike, we did a fundraiser live onstage at the Upright Citizens Brigade. After the strike was over and we were all friends again, we spoke to [NBC] about doing a live episode. The idea started last season, but we never were able to schedule it. This season, we started early in planning it and waited until Beth McCarthy-Miller was available to direct it. And it all kind of just fell into place.
DH: Are you excited or terrified – or both?
TF: Oh, I think it’s gonna be fun. Our cast is all used to doing live stuff from our ‘SNL’ days, including Alec (Baldwin) who’s hosted like 14 or 15 times. So none of us are really scared. It’s more about the technical logistics, like how many pages do you write for a live show? And because it’s got to come in right on time, we’ll have to build in ways to back-time the show and have some flexibility and account for the act breaks.
RC: Or we could forget about advertising and just try to get a dollar from every person in America.
DH: Are you building in a lot of Comcast stuff into your 30 Rock scripts for next season with the impending NBC sale?
RC: We’re incorporating a fictionalized version of that. There are a couple of things we’ve got in the works.
TF: We’ll show the new bosses, new rules, new work pressures.
DH: How have the top execs at NBC Universal like Jeff Zucker and Ben Silverman been about having been made the butt of your jokes? Have there ever been any clashes?
TF: I have to say that Jeff and Ben have been very lenient. They never interfered content-wise with anything we’ve ever done. Jeff put us on the air, and he’s left us there so far. He always sort of understands the joke and takes it well.
DH: Does it surprise you at al that this show is still on the air?
TF: Absolutely. Who would have thought we’d be going into our fifth season? The ratings, I guess, have been good enough. Now they’ve moved us to 8:30, which puts us in a more difficult spot during the 8 o’clock hour, where the numbers are lower. I hope that when our numbers invariably go down, alarm bells don’t go off and they blame us.
RC: Our fan base does a lot of time-shifting. That audience from DVRs isn’t counted the same way, I know, but it’s there.
TF: Yes it is. In fact, when you add in time-shifting, our audience is over 100 million. I’m no scientist when it comes to this stuff, but I understand we go from 2.8 million to 100 million when that’s all accounted for. It’s so huge there’s no way to even count it all.
DH: Tina, what if Sarah Palin makes a run for President in 2012 and they press you into service again on SNL?
TF: If Sarah runs, I’d happily go back any time and do it all over again. It really was fun having that run at SNL. They all had to do the work the rest of the week, and I would just step in on Saturday afternoons. All of the pieces came together rather easily. As long as Seth Meyers is there to write them again, I’m sure it would go pretty smoothly.
DH: Robert, is there any plan in place for how 30 Rock ends?
RC: You mean the end of the series? Uh, well, for starters, we pull back and reveal that it’s all just been a dream. Liz Lemon says, “Pay attention!” Then we start over.
TF: I just hope that when the shows does end, we’re given some notice in advance to plan for it and do it right.
DH: Do you think you’ll have another television series in you, Tina?
TF: It’s entirely possible. I do think the Mad Men/HBO model of 13 [episodes] per season is elegant and civilized. So that’s what I’d want to look at.
DH: Do you ever see yourself leaving TV for good and just doing movies?
TF: I think TV is a great medium for writers, with the autonomy it gives you. To answer the question, yes, I will leave TV for good, but I’m not sure it will be my choice. Eventually we all leave TV for good.