Emmy Watch: '30 Rock' EP Robert Carlock on working with Tina Fey
Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to return nomination ballots, EW.com is running a series called Emmy Watch, featuring highlight clips and interviews with actors, producers, and writers whom EW TV critic Ken Tucker has on his wish list for the nominations announcement on July 19.
As 30 Rock nears its final 13 episodes, Executive Producer Robert Carlock knows more than anyone that there’s a lot of ground to cover. And that’s exactly what he’ll do this week as he heads back into the writers’ room with Tina Fey. Last week, with only a few, sweet days left in his vacation, Carlock took a moment to talk about season 6 with EW — in particular, writing episode 518, “Murphy Brown Lied to Us.”
“This was the season where we were using our ammunition and doing stuff with the characters in a fun way that we hadn’t [for a few seasons],” says the three-time Emmy winner. “This season felt like one where we were paying stuff off a lot.” Among those pay-offs, Liz Lemon (Fey) committed to a man and the possibility of motherhood, Jack (Alec Baldwin) reunited with his kidnapped wife Avery (Elizabeth Banks) — only to get a quickie divorce — and Jenna (Jane Krakowski) got engaged.
While many sitcoms limp to their series finales, Carlock assured that will not be the case for 30 Rock. “This is a show that doesn’t tend to go quietly into the night,” he laughed. “The challenge next year will be doing justice to all of the characters and landing everyone in the right place.” Below, check out a clip of “Murphy,” then read what Carlock had to say about everything from Jack’s torture couches, to Jenna’s wedding, and the return of a few of Liz’s old flames.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You wrote “Murphy Brown Lied to Us.” Where did that episode fit into the season and the show in general?
ROBERT CARLOCK: It was a big relief to us as a staff. We had started a few years ago this idea that Liz, in her total quest for happiness — whether that’s possible or not, which I don’t think we’ve answered yet — wanted to have a family. Back in the day, we weren’t sure we’d be around next week. It was fun to know that, ‘Okay, now if we’re heading toward some sort of endgame for the characters or for the series, we can get back into that stuff.’ With Jimmy Marsden [who plays Liz’s boyfriend Criss] on the scene… we could resuscitate these ideas for her.
[This episode] was very much about starting [the Jack-and-Liz dynamic] up again and being serious. So much of the show is about Jack and Liz educating each other, and much of that education on Liz’s part is that pursuit of happiness and getting back on that train and let her start to realize those bigger life goals. It’s always something to play, and it been fun between the two of them. Obviously they’re the core of the show.
That episode also had one of my favorite weirdnesses. What we like to do is tell stories where it’s Liz getting some weird help from Jack. She thinks she’s being set on a blind date with a business crony of his, but really the date is with his super-cool daughter to remind Liz and kick-start the idea that she wants to have a family.
Speaking of which, Liz was very outspoken in last season’s finale about her hopes and dreams. She did ultimately get them all — but in a really perverse, only-on-30 Rock way. It’s strange to imagine Liz achieving her dreams for real. Every time she tries to get her life going, it never quite comes to be.
Her intentions are good. Her tutelage is good. She’s a smart person, but sometimes she gets in her own way. The fun of writing the show is that, yes we want to tell these stories with these big themes that you’ve seen before — the “having it all” of it — but [we have to ask ourselves,] ‘What’s the slightly weird, slightly twisted way to do that?’ Her ending up on the chain gang and being perfectly happy — that’s how she learns Spanish and gets outdoors — is a good example of that. What will be fun next year is finding ways to satisfy both sides of that. We want it to be driven by a comic idea, but we still want that emotional core.
The other story in “Murphy Brown” is that Jenna fakes a celebrity breakdown to try to get Paul [Will Forte] back. That relationship also encapsulates this question of “How do we reward everything that Jane has done [as an actress] and also give that character, who’s so self-centered and so insane, a relationship arc?’ The solution is this weird thing where he is a female impersonator, and that satisfies her most diva-ish desires. It’s been a really fun thing to figure out, ‘How do you tell love stories that are genuine for Jenna Maroney, who’s so self-absorbed? How do you get Liz to a satisfying place in her life when she’s so consistently bad at closing the deal?’
“That’s a dealbreaker, ladies!”
Yes. She is a walking dealbreaker.
NEXT: Carlock’s must-have cameos for the final season, Jenna’s wedding, and the possibility of another live show
30 Rock‘s characters are most fascinating and funniest when they’re at their most flawed. Do viewers want to see Lemon get what she wants?
We can’t read everyone’s minds, but we generally feel like what we want is what the people who watch the show want. [Though] there’s a section of people who want Jack and Liz to be together, and I don’t think they’re going to receive satisfaction in that regard. It’s entirely too much of an avuncular relationship. That would be like crossing the Rubicon.
We definitely want to keep our viewers happy, but as far as what that is, I don’t know. Is it Liz getting everything? If she got everything, it wouldn’t be in a straightforward way. On our little island of misfit toys, it has to get a laugh. We as writers find that more fun. These characters — as smart as they are or talented as they may be, and some of them are just flat-out crazy — are all flawed. That creates story and conflict, and that’s the fun of somebody doing something dumb and trying to get themselves out of it. Like Jack Donaghy…
With his couches.
Exactly — his stress position torture couches. It’s all well-intentioned, and it’s all because he can’t stop moving forward and is in a little bit of a box and is not about to not come up with what he thinks is a great idea. The next thing you know, you’re trying to sell couches that torture people. In other words, it always has to go to that place for us.
What are some of the things that the last season would not be 30 Rock if you did not have?
Dr. Spaceman [Chris Parnell] has to kill one of our cast members accidentally.
Or on purpose?
Or on purpose! As some sort of Dr. Frankenstein experiment. Otherwise, Devin Banks [Will Arnett] has to rear his ugly head again. Colleen [Jack’s mother, played by Elaine Stritch] has to come back, and we discover that she is never, ever going to die. I want to get Michael Sheen back as Wesley Snipes. I loved him so much. … We say every year that we’re going to get our buddy Tim Meadows on the show. This year we just have to figure that out.
He could be Paul’s brother.
We did talk about a storyline where Criss turns out to be adopted by an African-American family. We could get Tim for that. He could be Criss’s brother.
I know Paul and Jenna’s wedding is going to be major.
I would hope so. I guess we can’t bail on that and just say it happened over the summer. [Laughs] Well surely he’ll be dressed as her, right?
It could turn into a “Who wore it better?” dilemma. That might be the end of them, actually.
[Laughs] That’s great, yeah.
Well, Paul would take a step back and let Jenna wear the prettier dress.
Of course he would, yes. That why the relationship works. He understands it’s all about her.
What we can expect for Tracy?
More comedy. His new goal is to build an African-American business empire along the lines of Tyler Perry. It’s funny — he’s in some ways the most stable character. He has the most stable relationship and a family. In this weird way… it’s as close as we get to telling traditional sitcom stories.
You have one more opportunity for a live show. What are the chances?
There’s not a lot of runway for us to land the plane this year, and a live show is not really an opportunity for us to tell much story. It’s been fun doing them. That live experience is such a rush. It was a really fun change of pace for the actors and the audience. We haven’t really discussed it, and I think it’ll be tough — but that’s what we said back in 2006 about doing any of this.
Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, and Tracy Morgan star in the Emmy-winning comedy. You want to go to there.