MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY.
Don't look for Tina Fey on Saturday Night Live this season. The show's former head writer and Weekend Update co-anchor is trying her hand at sitcoms now. She stars in the new show 30 Rock, which she helped create. 30 Rock begins tonight on NBC, and here is TV critic Andrew Wallenstein.
ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: Fey became a star when she ventured outside the SNL writers' room and joined the cast. She attempts double duty again on 30 Rock, only this time I'm not sure that's entirely the right decision. It's not that 30 Rock isn't a promising sitcom, it is, because Fey follows that sage but simple advice: to write what you know.
In 30 Rock, she plays a thinly veiled version of her former self, a head writer for fictional sketch comedy show. She's essentially the straight woman for two figures who turn her life upside down. One of them is Alec Baldwin, who plays a smug new network executive charged with shaking up the show. Fey's character is hardly pleased, but in this scene her new boss isn't interested in endearing himself to her.
(Soundbite of TV show, "30 Rock")
Mr. ALEC BALDWIN (Actor): (As Jack) Are you familiar with the GE Trivection oven?
Ms. TINA FEY (Actress): (As Liz Lemon) I don't cook very much.
Mr. BALDWIN: (As Jack) Sure. I gotcha. New York, third wave, feminist, college-educated, single-and-pretending-to-be-happy-about-it, over-scheduled, under-sexed, you buy the magazine that says healthy body image on the cover, and every two years you take up knitting for a week.
Unidentified Man: That is dead on.
Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) What are you going to guess my weight now?
Mr. BALDWIN: (As Jack) You don't want me to do that.
Unidentified Man: That knitting thing is uncanny. How do you do that?
Mr. BALDWIN: (As Jack) Market research, my friend. Years and years of market research, which led to my greatest triumph - the Trivection Oven.
WALLENSTEIN: Baldwin is just uproarious here, as anyone who has seen his numerous real-life SNL appearances can attest. Sad as it might seem how age has melted away his matinee idol looks, it also revealed what a gifted clown he's always been underneath. Tracy Morgan is also excellent as the troubled hotshot comedian tormenting Fey's character. In this scene, he bares his soul to her.
(Soundbite of TV show, "30 Rock")
Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) So, Tracy, we should talk about the show.
Mr. TRACY MORGAN (Actor): (As Tracy Jordon) Yeah, I ain't doing it unless I get to it my way, you know. I want it to be raw, HBO style content.
Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Well, it's not HBO. It's TV. And I don't think that it's a good fit.
Mr. MORGAN: (As Tracy Jordon) Yo, 'cause I want to drop truth bombs. You know how pissed off I was when US Weekly said that I was on crack? That's racist. I'm not on crack. I'm straight up mentally ill.
Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Sure.
Mr. MORGAN: (As Tracy Jordon) I got mental health issues.
Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Sure, well, you know, who doesn't, really?
WALLENSTEIN: I was never that impressed by Morgan when he was in the SNL cast, but his role here nicely channels his manic energy - which leaves Tina Fey. Now from behind the Weekend Update desk there was no one better at tossing off clever put downs. But do 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.
She is so badly upstaged by Baldwin and Morgan, that every scene they're not in drags. And that's the cruel irony Fey could be facing. A comedian quick to deflate the pretensions of others may end up succumbing to that ultimate act of Hollywood hubris: casting herself as herself.
BRAND: Andrew Wallenstein is an editor at the Hollywood Reporter and a regular TV critic here at DAY TO DAY. 30 Rock airs tonight on NBC.