October 21, 2018

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Opinion

Live from New York, it's ... Thursday Night Live, starring 30 Rock

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/10/2010 (2929 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As ratings-grabbing gimmicks go, the idea of doing a live episode of a scripted TV series is hardly new.

ER did it to dramatic good effect in 1997, doing two live performances of the same storyline (once each for East and West Coast audiences); the episode, titled Ambush, is widely considered to have been one of the celebrated NBC show's five or six best.

The Drew Carey Show, led by a star/creator who was always willing to experiment with formats and musical mischief, did three live episodes (1999, 2000, 2001); Will & Grace also tested its cast members' resolve by doing live shows in 2006 and 2007.

The results of live-episode experimentation tend to be mixed, and even though it's a given that live episodes will be inferior in quality to their standard shot-on-tape counterparts, there's always a feeling that audiences are willing to lower their expectations and give shows that do them extra credit just for giving it the old retro-TV try.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/10/2010 (2929 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As ratings-grabbing gimmicks go, the idea of doing a live episode of a scripted TV series is hardly new.

ER did it to dramatic good effect in 1997, doing two live performances of the same storyline (once each for East and West Coast audiences); the episode, titled Ambush, is widely considered to have been one of the celebrated NBC show's five or six best.

Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey

NBC

Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey

The Drew Carey Show, led by a star/creator who was always willing to experiment with formats and musical mischief, did three live episodes (1999, 2000, 2001); Will & Grace also tested its cast members' resolve by doing live shows in 2006 and 2007.

The results of live-episode experimentation tend to be mixed, and even though it's a given that live episodes will be inferior in quality to their standard shot-on-tape counterparts, there's always a feeling that audiences are willing to lower their expectations and give shows that do them extra credit just for giving it the old retro-TV try.

All of which, of course, leads us to this week's instalment of 30 Rock (tonight at 7:30 on NBC and Citytv), which will be performed live twice. On its surface, it seems like just another prime-time gimmick, but the truth of the matter is that there's probably more reason to look forward to this live episode than almost any of the others that have been done in recent years.

The reason is simple: doing live TV is what many of the folks at 30 Rock, on both sides of the camera, do best. Series creator/star Tina Fey and co-star Tracy Morgan are products of the Saturday Night Live stable, as are many of the show's writers and producers. Jane Krakowski is a veteran Broadway performer; Jack McBrayer spent seven years doing Second City shows; even the cast's resident wise showbiz elder, Alec Baldwin, has extensive live-theatre credentials and has hosted SNL no fewer than 15 times.

In short, there's endless potential for live-TV magic. For this crew, doing this special episode will be much less a nerve-grinding burden than a shared opportunity to shine.

According to the episode description released by NBC, the live show will follow three interconnected storylines — Liz's frustration that her co-workers seem to be ignoring her 40th birthday, Jack's struggle with his decision to remain on the wagon while Avery's pregnant, and Tracy's sudden flash-of-comic-genius decision that nothing is funnier than a performer who breaks character and laughs hysterically during a live show (which is, if you're old enough to recall those classic Tim Conway/Harvey Korman sketches on The Carol Burnett Show, actually pretty amusing).

Because of its show-within-a-show framework, 30 Rock should be able to use the "live" aspect of its fictitious TGS with Tracy Jordan to doubly good comic effect, turning even its inevitable flubs and fumbled lines into believable parts of the storyline.

Assuming that archived versions will be available online up hereabouts after the live broadcast, it might be very interesting to watch both versions of tonight's episode to see how much live-TV fun the 30 Rock gang actually has with this.

The betting here is that 30 Rock live will be a winner. To paraphrase Liz Lemon herself, you should want to go to there.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives Editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

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