Live From New York, It's a Show You Usually See on TV

What Everyone Is Talking About

By Published on .

Tina Fey had just one request for the packed-to-the-walls crowd at a live performance of an upcoming episode of her NBC sitcom, "30 Rock," last week at New York's Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre.
'30 Rock' creator Tina Fey has been seen on the picket lines outside Rockefeller Center.
'30 Rock' creator Tina Fey has been seen on the picket lines outside Rockefeller Center.

"Please don't post anything about tonight's show on any blogs or anything. Our plots are very complicated, like 'Heroes,'" she said. There was a beat, then the real punch line: "We've been doing this [show] for almost two years now, and we've managed to keep it a secret anyway."

"30 Rock" was one of two NBC comedies ("Saturday Night Live" was the other) the UCB Theatre staged live as a fundraiser for TV crew members not working due to that little thing known as the "writers strike." "SNL's" Amy Poehler is a UCB co-founder, and many "30 Rock" actors and writers came up through the theater's improv circuit, including regulars John Lutz and Jack McBrayer (aka Kenneth the Page).

Since the show is among the lowest-rated on broadcast TV, chances are you may need a quick explanation of why seats to this "secret" performance commanded $300 on Craigslist -- and at least one offer to spend Thanksgiving with a ticketless fan's family. The show takes place at a real network (NBC) with fictional executives (Alec Baldwin's Jack Donaghy is a Lorne Michaels/Jeff Zucker hybrid with a special skill for uncanny impressions) and other characters who are doppelgangers of those who play them (Tina Fey's Liz Lemmon is basically a single version of herself, and "Tracy Jordan" is what Tracy Morgan would be like if he possessed Eddie Murphy levels of craziness). Not only are the performances nuanced and superb, the punch lines are rarely easy and often quite irreverent. If the words "By the hammer of Thor!" don't mean anything to you out of context, they likely won't make any sense on the show, either, but they still will make you laugh like you just got tickled real hard.

The cast jelled well during the live reading, especially Alec Baldwin and "SNL" writer Paula Pell, who stood in for guest star Edie Falco as Jack Donaghy's liberal lover. But the biggest highlights came during the "commercial breaks," when Messrs. McBrayer and Lutz, the UCB vets, took cues from the audience to make up brand-neutral ads on the spot for beer, tampons and a flamethrower. By the hammer of Thor, "30 Rock" worked even better live than it does on TV.
Most Popular
In this article: