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How Tina Fey’s Great News will (or won’t) tackle fake news

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Trae Patton/NBC

When NBC ordered Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s newsroom-set series Great News last May, the world of cable news was less a headline and more a punchline, but ahead of the show’s March 7 premiere, Fey and company seem to have inherited all the zeitgeisty trimmings that now seem expected with the loaded term.

The workplace sitcom was created by former 30 Rock-er Tracy Wigfield and follows Katie (Briga Heelan), a rising journalist whose job at a cable news network is shaken up when her mother (Andrea Martin) accepts an internship at the channel. Executive producers Fey, Carlock, and Jack Burditt joined Wigfield and the cast during the semi-annual Television Critics Association press tour and spoke not only about the show’s DNA link to 30 Rock, but to the inevitable question of whether the midseason comedy would use its subject matter to comment on where news — real and fake — sits on the political front today.

For one thing, Fey said the broadcast schedule meant a majority of the first 10 episodes were shot ahead of the fake news melee that emerged after (and during) the election. “We shot these knowing that we’d be on midseason, so with the delay on broadcast, you can sort of take ideas from the headlines, but you can’t do a joke that will…feel really old by the time the show airs,” she said. “I think if we’re lucky enough to do a second season…you’d be closer to [the headlines], but you can never quite keep up with Saturday Night Live in that way. It’s a different game. I think you take bigger ideas more than day-to-day moments.”

Wigfield confirmed that she would be interested in making more of a statement on news veracity in the show’s would-be second season. “I’d love for the show to be able to do more commentary on…the state of news and where news is going,” she told reporters, adding that she was surprised to have “picked what now is the most interesting job in the world—to work at a cable news station.” However, Wigfield agreed with Fey’s assessment that as a new show, it must first and foremost find and stay grounded in its foundation: “There’s a core. For a series to sustain itself, it does have to be about the people and the relationships.”

Carlock noted that the show’s subject matter already packed significantly higher moral stakes than 30 Rock. “Even if we’re not trying to deal with the news as the news, there are stakes to it,” said Fey’s frequent creative partner, summarizing some of the stakes on 30 Rock as “Tracy won’t do the sketch!” With Great News, he says, “What we were able to do with this is to have things that matter. Just from a story standpoint, it feels more propulsive.”

Certain aspects of the present state of news are cornerstones of the sitcom, though. Among the ensemble, John Michael Higgins and Nicole Richie costar as the network’s anchors, Chuck and Portia, who sit on the opposite side of the generational gap and reflect that age discrepancy in their judgment of, as Carlock says, things that matter. “Portia wants to share…what she considers actual news,” said Richie. “Chuck wants to report on actual news that’s going on in the world, and Portia really wants to report about Snapchat and lipstick and anything really important to her.”

Cast member Horatio Sanz sums up the show’s premise fairly well. “It’s impossible to not have an opinion on the news,” he says. “[But] I would watch this even if I wasn’t on it because it’s fascinating—a news team or a news organization, if you’re sitting inside—how weird they are. We’re always presented with this perfect picture, but when you go inside, it’s a lot more… odd.”

Great News premieres March 7 on NBC.

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