Saturday Night Live alum Tina Fey, the creator, writer, executive producer and star of NBC comedy series 30 Rock, is having a darn good year in TV. Her show earned 22 Emmy nominations last month, the most any comedy series has ever received. In addition, the off-network rights to 30 Rock starting in 2011 were sold to Comedy Central and WGN America on cable, while Fox and Tribune stations are splitting up the comedy in major markets on their local stations.
In her first in-depth interview since the Emmy nominations and the sale of 30 Rock into syndication, Fey spoke with B&C Executive Editor Melissa Grego about a variety of topics including the Emmys and why she wants no part of hosting it. An edited transcript follows.
This is a big year for you and for 30 Rock. The show got a record number of Emmy nominations and a sale into syndication. How do you account for this record take of nominations?
I don't know. Our whole cast and crew and writers do work really hard, so I'm really happy for all of us that this show of affection was made in the nominations.
I keep reminding everyone that we may not walk away with anything. We may just [wind up with] a whole bunch of nominations.
For the show to be sold into syndication, it really feels like the show is grown up in a way. It's gone from being an unlikely underdog to being an actual television show.
Why don't you do Emmy reaction interviews?
I did do them the one year. But right before I did it—my daughter was a baby at the time—we were in a hotel in Philadelphia, and she tripped and cut her hand and it was complete chaos. So I thought maybe it was a jinx.
You got a ton of attention at last year's Emmys. Did you feel like you were the star of the show?
Goodness me, no. I felt like there was a vacuum last year. It's very exciting that the show this year will have Neil Patrick Harris as host. Maybe what you were feeling was a problem with that broadcast [featuring the now notorious multi-host format]. It was an embarrassment of riches at that show last year for us, and I don't think we'll ever have a year like that again. But we'll keep showing up as long as they'll have us.
NBC has the Emmys next year. Would you consider hosting if they asked?
I have not talked to anyone at NBC about this. No, I think it's a hard job and a thankless one. People I've seen host shows like that —when they do a great job, the most you hear is, “Well, that was OK.” I think maybe it's also a job for a standup, and I was never a standup. I never worked “a single,” as they call it.
I guess, never say never. But the thought of it makes me feel sweaty.
There's been lots of hubbub in the last week over the proposed Emmys telecast this year, in which eight awards will be given out before the show starts live, then edited down for the telecast. Are you following this?
Just a little bit. The thing that I almost think is stranger is that the Individual Performance in Variety category disappeared. No one seems to care about that [change]. It felt like such a strange thing in a year when the late-night wars have become so exciting and are changing, and there are new players in different positions. That and people like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart and Conan O'Brien and Dave Letterman are doing so much good stuff. For that award to disappear, I thought, was the weirdest of the weirdnesses. You can figure out how to spell “weirdnesses.”
Am I right in understanding that you're not particularly bothered by the idea of time-shifted awards?
We'll have to see what it looks like. I think it's a different thing between doing that and taking the categories away. Maybe it's because I come from the red-headed stepchild of TV that is the comedy-variety world. I know what it's like to be part of the boring part of the broadcast. It's no surprise to me that the broadcast might not always be fair.
If you're a writer and you get nominated for an award, you want your parents to be able to see you on TV. So hopefully this time-shifting will still allow people's parents to see them on TV.
What are your thoughts on Ben Silverman, who just stepped down from NBC?
Ben was always very good to us and good to 30 Rock, and anyone who left us on the air is all right by me. We'll miss him, but all seems well with the new guy, too. I spoke to Mr. Gaspin last week and he seems like a good guy—so far. So far. I'm giving him 10…no, I'm kidding.
What do you think about The Jay Leno Show on NBC at 10?
My take is I have the fascinating curiosity of a 100% spectator. I'm going to be just really interested to see how the shows work together, that many hours of comedy and talk working together. I'm just curious. I think Jimmy [Fallon]'s doing really well. I'm glad for him.
So not only is this a huge year for you with regard to the Emmys, but30 Rock also has been sold into syndication. And by all accounts, the show has gotten solid deals relative to a very rough market.
We did. Everyone at NBC Universal did a really good job of selling the show and it was a tough time economically, so I was really happy with the deal that was made and just happy that the show will have a life beyond its original network life. I want to be the Aunt Esther, or I should say I want Liz Lemon to be the Aunt Esther to live on in syndication.
How involved have you been in the sale?
[The NBCU staffers] were very inclusive with [fellow 30 Rock executive producer] Lorne Michaels and myself and showing everything, all the materials and asking, “Are these the clips that best represent your show, and is the editing and the timing of the clips right?”
What do you mean by the timing of clips?
Just, did we cut it at the right part of the joke? The actual editing of the package for content and stuff. I'm excited for us to go to Comedy Central because they seem to really care about the show and will give it a good platform there. This is the first time I'm doing any of this stuff. It's a different world than I imagined it 15 years ago. People are excited to promote it.
What was happening 15 years ago?
The Golden Age of sitcom television. When everything had high, high ratings. It was more of a given that you would make it.
Of what you've seen of the syndication sales process, what do you think of it? Might any of it ever make it into a 30 Rock storyline?
Maybe. I have a limited understanding of it. It seems like a widespread, complex business that is in flux, and I think the guys at NBC Universal made a creative deal based on how in flux it is. If we can get a 30 Rock storyline out of it, we surely will try.
What do you think Sarah Palin should do next?
[Laughs] I wouldn't begin to know.
Anything else about 30 Rock you would like TV stations that might be thinking about buying it in off-network to know? Or anything else you'd like to say about the show?
It's a humorous program. And I do think it is a show that stands up particularly well under repeat viewing. So many people say to me I watched, then I Tivo'd it again, then I watched a third time and noticed a whole other joke. Its denseness makes for good repeating.
So keep your ear out for that call from NBC to host the Emmys next year.
Ha, ha. It looks hard, doesn't it? I thought Neil did a fantastic job at the Tonys. He was great. He was really funny but kind of surgical, and didn't take up a ton of time. It was great that he did a number at the end.