- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 23, 2008

NEW YORK

This couldn’t be better if Tina Fey had written it herself. And she’s an Emmy-winning writer.

Here’s how it unfolds: Miss Fey is the creator-star of “30 Rock,” an NBC comedy series that everybody loves (though a few more viewers wouldn’t hurt). Then, shortly after the show starts shooting its third season, a presidential candidate announces as his running mate the governor of a large state from which you can see Russia. And the would-be Republican veep happens to look a lot like Miss Fey.

Can you see where this is going - uh, went?

Miss Fey makes several guest appearances spoofing the candidate on the late-night satire show where she used to be a regular, and she’s a smash. Then the real-life candidate does a much-anticipated walk-on, doing her version of how Miss Fey has been doing her. Spoofing the spoof. About 17 million tune in for this spectacle of twice-removed reality.



Then everyone on “30 Rock” awaits its Oct. 30 season premiere, riding this powerful publicity wave. On the big night, the whole country is watching, bless its heart, and faster than you can say “you betcha,” “30 Rock” explodes as the hit it was destined to be.

“I hope this ends up helping ‘30 Rock,’ ” Miss Fey says, referring to her Sarah Palin sideline the past few weeks on “Saturday Night Live.” She’s keeping her expectations modest nevertheless. “I would like the audience to go up just enough so that people don’t have to refer to it as ‘the ratings-challenged ‘30 Rock’ anymore.”

Never mind those doggone ratings. Last year, “30 Rock” averaged about 6 million viewers every week, but that’s just pointing backward. As the new season nears, Miss Fey is giving a shout-out to everyone who hasn’t been watching.

“If they want to try a fun comedy show,” she says, “then we’ll be there.”

Over coffee around the corner from the Manhattan apartment she shares with husband Jeff Richmond (music director of “30 Rock”) and their 3-year-old daughter, Alice, Miss Fey is enjoying a rare morning off from the studio. She’s wearing jeans, a T-shirt and tennies and looks relaxed, noting happily that she got to sleep late.

It has been a jam-packed autumn, which, along with her “SNL” gig, entailed a whirlwind trip to Los Angeles to collect a new batch of Emmy Awards, adding to the Peabody and Golden Globe earlier this year.

Then word leaked about Miss Fey’s book deal.

“I don’t know much yet,” she says when asked for details, “except it would be a humor book and not a memoir and that my mom has already pre-ordered 50 of them.”

In short, Miss Fey, 38, seems as busy as her fictitious “30 Rock” alter ego.

Along with serving as a writer and producer, she plays Liz Lemon, the overextended producer of an NBC comedy inspired by “SNL” (where Miss Fey toiled for nine seasons, the last six as head writer as well as cast member).

But “30 Rock” is a finely crafted marvel of looniness concerned with lampooning more than the TV world. It also mines humor from absurd corporate scheming and Liz’s non-starter romantic life, plus (in the spirit of “Seinfeld”) skewering the solipsistic vanities of being a Manhattanite.

Liz is surrounded by kookie comrades, including company boss Jack Donaghy (playedwith purring megalomania by Alec Baldwin) and Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), Liz’s boisterously unhinged star.

Jane Krakowski, Scott Adsit, Jack McBrayer, Judah Friedlander and Keith Powell richly complete the ensemble, supplemented by frequent guest stars. Oprah Winfrey, Steve Martin and Jennifer Aniston will appear on future episodes, as well as Salma Hayek as Jack’s new love interest.

In the season premiere, which Miss Fey wrote, Liz wants to adopt a child, but her screwball workplace could raise questions about her fitness as a parent when the adoption agency’s counselor (guest star Megan Mullally) pays a visit.

Wait - isn’t something familiar about Miss Mullally’s appearance?

“It’s funny, Megan chose a very Sarah Palin hairstyle for her character,” Miss Fey says. “It may look purposeful now, but it’s not. The episode was shot before any of that.”

Miss Fey makes no claims to prophesy. It was only when she saw TV coverage of Mrs. Palin at a rally nearly two weeks after the Alaska governor teamed with Sen. John McCain that she began to see the possibilities. “That was the first time I thought, ‘Well, I kinda do look like her. I’d better really listen to how this lady talks,’ ” she says.

Apparently, she did, for just a few days later, she greeted “SNL” viewers with her funny-mirror debut as Mrs. Palin. It created a sensation and made one thing clear: Through some sort of accident of timing, genes and public mandate, Miss Fey and Mrs. Palin occupied adjoining berths in the zeitgeist.

“The ‘SNL’ stuff has certainly changed things for me,” Miss Fey says. “A lot more people seem to know who I am.” It also has been fun, but with a political race as harsh and divisive as this one, she says her prominence within it “has made me feel weird and vulnerable.”

It’s not that she hasn’t mimicked or otherwise mocked politicians before, sometimes creating a stir. “But this is at a different level,” she says. “It will settle down after the election - whoever wins.”

Beyond the election - far beyond it, she hopes - “30 Rock” will keep her at full throttle.

“We’re so in the thick of it,” Miss Fey says, looking pleased and, come to think of it, not so much like Mrs. Palin. “We’re spending all day every day trying to figure out ways to make stuff funny. That’s the business at hand.”

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