Sitcom's depiction exaggerates vices
Like the woman who is but isn’t Tina Fey on “TGS With Tracy Jordan,” the show-within-a-show on “30 Rock,” there are both similarities and differences between the actual NBC sitcom writers and their wild-and-crazy fictional counterparts.
For one, “30 Rock” brings about as much diversity to the writers’ room as the onscreen crew that scripts “TGS.” The real Emmy-winning staff consists of seven men and four women (compared with two or three women on the smaller “TGS” team), a high percentage of female talent by sitcom standards.
On the other hand, “30 Rock” lost its sole African-American writer, Donald Glover — who moved on to a co-starring role in new NBC sitcom “Community” and signed a writer-performer holding deal with Universal. So its only parallel with African-American and Harvard-educated “TGS” writer Toofer (Keith Powell) isn’t along racial lines.
“If you’re talking about the insufferable Harvard type, we actually have more in real life,” says co-exec producer Jack Burditt. “We had three from Harvard this past season — we have five now.”
Another major distinction is that the real-life writers don’t have time for staging gags, the way “TGS” writers do.
“We don’t have an organized group of practical jokers, but we get a lot of pleasure out of embarrassing each other,” Burditt notes. “We actually have a really good time. But we do work some really long hours.”
“They throw food at Liz (Fey’s character on ‘TGS’) a little bit more than we do,” exec producer Robert Carlock adds.
Carlock, a former “Saturday Night Live” scribe, says he imagines that “TGS” writers adhere to a looser schedule, somewhat similar to the workweek on “SNL,” which after all was Fey’s inspiration for “30 Rock.” On a sketch show, writers spend more time working alone, scripting in frenzied bursts, whereas sitcom writers like those on “30 Rock” spend more time writing as a group.
As far as similarities go, obsessions with food are one, though no actual writer binges like Judah Friedlander’s sandwich-shoveling Frank.
“We try not to be as disgusting as the stereotype of writers would suggest, including the one we tend to create,” Carlock says.
“We complain a lot about the food,” Burditt admits. “That’s one thing that’s similar to the show, people talking about food much more than any normal person should.”
What’s the most important element that translates room to room?
“The best thing about trying to write a writers’ room is that people come to writing and television from so many different places and educational and cultural backgrounds,” Carlock says.
“Liz and Frank and Toofer, it makes sense they’re in that room, just as it made sense back in the day that Tina and I and Frank Sebastiano and Tracy Morgan could all be in the writers’ room at ‘SNL.’ It creates a more interesting conversation.”