Still missing 30 Rock? Quit your blerging—Tina Fey and Rock showrunner Robert Carlock have teamed up again for a new series, debuting this March on Netflix, about a naive thirtysomething (Ellie Kemper) who moves to the Big Apple after escaping the doomsday cult she belonged to for 15 years. Once there, Kimmy moves in with an aspiring singer (Tituss Burgess, whom 30 Rock fans may recognize as Queen of Jordan sidekick D’Fwan) and starts working as a nanny for a girl named Xanthippe (Dylan Gelula)—whose mother is played by another Rock alum (Jane Krakowski). EW chatted with Fey and Carlock about their latest project.
Where did the idea for this series come from?
Tina Fey: NBC asked us if we would be interested in writing something for Ellie Kemper. So we spent a couple weeks thinking about Ellie Kemper—which, if you’ve not done it, is a lovely way to spend time.
Robert Carlock: Yeah. We just spend all day staring at pictures of her smiling face.
So staring at her face, the first thing you think is “cult survivor”?
Fey: She’s optimistic. She’s sunny, but strong.
Carlock: It took us down a variety of paths—”[maybe] she’s someone who just woke up from a coma.” We wanted to center this around her, do the kind of Mary Tyler Moore template of the girl in the big city. We thought, “All right, how do you kind of erase her back to all the experiences a person should’ve had by the time she’s 30?” And so we talked about a variety of different things.
Fey: This one seemed the least commercial.
You mentioned Mary Tyler Moore as a sort of inspiration.
Fey: Yeah. Very often, pilots are about people starting their lives over for various reasons—[it’s] my first job, or I’ve just gotten a divorce, or whatever. And what we hope is that in spite of its strange origin story, Kimmy as a character is very relatable. It’s like a very heightened version of Girls. Like, “I’m here, and I’m new, and I don’t know what I”m going to do with my life.” A woman who’s an extreme case of that, because she’s lost a chunk of her life. She doesn’t know anything.
Does the show take place in the same New York as 30 Rock?
Fey: In theory, it does.
Carlock: At one time in the pilot, we found ourselves shooting in Rockefeller Plaza. We were half joking about seeing Kenneth just walk by in the background.
Fey: Out of, like, a ’70s limousine.
Carlock: But we couldn’t afford [Jack] McBrayer, so…
So there’s no 30 Rock cinematic universe?
Carlock: No, we’re trying not to eat ourselves just yet.
Fey: Just yet. Because Jane [Krakowski] is a different character in this show, so the roof would cave in.
How involved are the two of you with the show day-to-day?
Fey: Mostly just… 17 to 18 hours a day. We’re fully involved.
Carlock: Whether people want it or not.
What have the past two years been like without 30 Rock? Have there been things happening in the world that you’ve been dying to write about?
Fey: The one about that guy who makes videos for rich girls.
Carlock: The ARK [Music Factory] guy?
Fey: The ARK video guy. Tracy [Jordan] would have started a business like that on the side.
Carlock: Like a Rebecca Black kind of thing.
Fey: Make music videos…
Carlock: …for, like, five grand a pop. It’s like, you don’t need the five grand!
Fey: [As Tracy] “I just enjoy it!”
Carlock: And then of course Jenna would get jealous of the girls who were in the videos, and would want her own bat mitzvah video.
Fey: She’d want to be a video ho.
Carlock: She’d want to be a video ho in a child’s video.
What does the move to Netflix mean for the show? You know you’ll have two seasons—does that give you license to make season 2 more serialized, or weirder?
Fey: We’re very excited about going to Netflix. The back half of these 13, we’ve edited them with Netflix in mind. At the very least, to not be writing toward commercial breaks and editing down to rigid network timing—a half hour [slot] on network is 21 minutes and 15 seconds [of content]. And so we’d be able to put back some jokes that were cut solely to get to that timing. That said, the tone of the show is sort of set, because it was written for network. So I don’t think it’s going to take a graphic sexual turn in season 2.
Carlock: Yeah. It’s a show that belongs on Netflix, but as Tina says, the tone is set. I think one of the challenges next year, a fun challenge, will be keeping limits on ourselves. Good things come, creatively, out of having limitations and not just immediately swearing whenever you’re searching for a joke. The freedom is a double-edged sword. Which, as we point out in an upcoming episode—why is that a bad thing, to have two edges on a sword?
Why do you think the show actually belongs on Netflix, Robert?
Carlock: Well, it has a little edge to it. And I think it is highly serialized—[there are] different romantic arcs and different relationships between Ellie’s character and Jane and Titus and Carol [Kane] and all these other people, and the culmination of the first season is very much about her origin story. That’s very much what Netflix does.
Tina, are you going to appear on Kimmy?
Fey: Uhhh, maaaaybe! The good thing is it’s on Netflix now, so you’d only have to wait one day. Fast forward through all of them and see if I appear.
Carlock: I am not appearing. I can say that definitively.
Fey: Here’s my cryptic answer: “Sorry, Sarah Paulson. Beat you to it.” And I’ll let you figure it out.
Are you saying you have three heads on this show?
Fey: Nope. I’m just going to let that be a little fun mystery. We’ll light the Internet on fire. Oh, we didn’t? Oh no.
A version of this article appears in Entertainment Weekly’s Jan. 9 issue.