A Critic Revisits '30 Rock'

When the sitcom 30 Rock debuted a few years back, critic Andrew Wallenstein wasn't impressed. Now he's rethinking his opinion. Wallenstein offers some thoughts about how a critic goes about changing his mind.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day, I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen. The NBC comedy, "30 Rock" is one of the most popular shows today. Tina Fey took home the Golden Globe last year for her performance as TV producer, Liz Lemon.

(Soundbite of TV show, "30 Rock")

Ms. TINA FEY (As Liz Lemon): There's a picture on my phone, an adult picture of me.

Mr. ALEC BALDWIN: (As Jack) (Laughing) What?

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon): Drew took it as a joke. I'm making a face like this - why am I telling you this?

Mr. BALDWIN: (As Jack) Top and bottom? May I speak with Aziv?

COHEN: When "30 Rock" got started, though, our critic Andrew Wallenstein was not a big fan of Fey's performance. Here is what he had to say in 2006.

ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: Now, from behind the weekend update desk, there was no one better at tossing off clever putdowns. But you recall any other SNL sketches where she stood out? That's because for all her brilliance as a writer, Fey strikes me as rather dull to be the focal point of a sitcom, a potentially fatal flaw for 30 Rock.

COHEN: Andrew called us to say he's had a recent change of heart about Tina Fey. He joins us now in the studio. Hi, Andrew.

WALLENSTEIN: Hi there.

COHEN: So, rather dull to be the focal point of a sitcom. Ouch!

WALLENSTEIN: Yeah. Do you think I could have picked a bigger sacred cow-tative from Tina Fey?

(Soundbite of laughter)

WALLENSTEIN: I mean, what was I thinking?

COHEN: Well, let's be fair. This was before the days of her run as a Sarah Palin impersonator. But now, what's up? You like her now?

WALLENSTEIN: Well, here's a thing. I'm going to give you sort of a half-defense, half-fall on the sword here.

COHEN: All right.

WALLENSTEIN: In my defense, the pilot for 30 Rock was not that great and I don't think it made particularly good use of her. So, like a lot of great shows, and I do think 30 Rock is the best comedy on the air right now, it took some time to get there. On the other hand, here's my mea culpa. I think I misunderstood her character. I talked a bit in that earlier review about how she was kind of upstaged by Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan. I didn't realize that was kind of the point. She's supposed to be dull. She's sort of - her whole character as she's dishwater personified.

COHEN: Do you think anything might have to do with her performance and how it has evolved? I mean, this really has come after this big turning point that happened for her when she was able to play Sarah Palin and nail that part so well. Do you see her performance changed? Is there more confidence to it?

WALLENSTEIN: I really do. I think even Tina Fey herself would probably admit that the person who started that show back in '06 is not the same as she is now. I think she simply become a better performer, she's grown into the role.

COHEN: Is there are bigger lesson to be learned here for TV shows and for critics…

WALLENSTEIN: Perhaps or...

COHEN: That they should be given a bit more time?

WALLENSTEIN: Yes, perhaps for critics. You know, it's tough for us critics when you get one episode to look at and then you have to judge an entire show. You do your best. And unfortunately, with TV, sometimes you don't really get in to the groove until, God, sometimes a season or two it takes.

COHEN: Now, you are a critic. You write something. It's printed in out there. What do you do in a situation like this? Can you go back and do a take back, say OK, I'm OK with Tina Fey now?

WALLENSTEIN: You know, that is actually pretty common among critics where, at least on the TV side, they'll go back and revisit a show and give a second opinion. Have I done that for "30 Rock"? No, but that's why I'm here today.

COHEN: Andrew Wallenstein is digital media editor at the Hollywood Reporter. Thanks Andrew.

WALLENSTEIN: Thanks.

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