Episode Title: “Live From Studio 6H”
Writers: Jack Burditt & Tina Fey
Director: Beth McCarthy Miller
The second live episode of “30 Rock” begins with Jack Donaghey (Alec Baldwin) telling Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) his plans to stop airing “TGS” live. His plan to film the entire season in two weeks is a biting commentary on the network bottom line, and makes Liz nostalgic for live TV. So begins Liz and Kenneth (Jack McBrayer)’s quest to save Live TV, by introducing guest cameo Kim Kardashian (for the west coast feed.)
The news that this is the last live “TGS” triggers both Hazel (Kristen Schall) and Jenna (Jane Krakowski). Hazel has planned to get discovered by creating an incident on live TV. Jenna wants Paul (Will Forte) to propose on live TV. She wasn’t planning on getting engaged just yet, but of course the chance to demonstrate the acceptance face she’s prepared since she was little means tonight’s the night.
Kenneth lures Liz, Jack and the “TGS” staff into Tracy (Tracy Morgan)’s dressing room for a meeting. He locks them in, swallowing the key (convincingly enough for live TV.) His plan is to sway everyone to the merits of live TV, “12 Angry Men” style. This also keeps the bulk of the show contained to one set organically.
From here, discussions of classic live TV moments allow “30 Rock” to “flash back” to fake live TV shows, either using characters not in the dressing room, or often even allowing Fey, Baldwin and Morgan to appear in cutaways. A “Honeymooners” spoof starring Fey and Baldwin emphasizes the misogyny of Ralph Kramden. A “Laugh-In” spoof accentuates the swinging sexual humor and gets Katrina Bowden in an all new sexy attire from a different era. A racist sitcom features Morgan and guest star Jon Hamm in what is clearly blackface but not blackface enough to be actually offensive.
Meanwhile, outside the dressing room Hazel and Jenna are oblivious that everyone is missing. Paul arrives in full Jenna garb but says he doesn’t want to turn their proposal into a circus. Jenna threatens to break off the engagement if he won’t propose on the air, and Paul doesn’t like ultimatums.
A running gag in the cutaways begins with an outdated sponsored ad for Chattertons cigarettes featuring Dr. Spaceman (Chris Parnell) touting the benefits of smoking for pregnant mothers. Later, a more modern commercial features Spaceman offering treatment for babies disfigured by smoking mothers.
One of the more biting cutaways from the dressing room is a news broadcast with Fey playing the first female anchor reporting on the launch of Apollo 13. Brian Williams guests with Baldwin playing such extremely sexist anchors they refuse to believe that this woman is a reporter.
A more positive case for Live TV is shown when Tracy flashes back to his live TV debut. Donald Glover plays young Tracy, part of a dance troupe. When he falls and injures himself, he is embarrassed at first but then realizes people are laughing. He decides he likes the attention from laughing better.
The pivotal moment comes when Jack reveals he used to man the phone lines during the live telethon era. Liz remembers prank calling GE way back when (Amy Poehler plays young Liz), and Jack was the one who took the call. With everyone realizing how Live TV defined their lives, Jack agrees to keep “TGS” live. Kenneth regurgitates the key and lets everyone out of the dressing room.
During the live “TGS,” Paul interrupts a sketch and proposes to Jenna after all. Jenna says no because she realizes he was right the first time. They should keep their engagement to themselves. Hazel then runs on stage and tears a picture of Sinead O’Connor up in front of the camera. Kim Kardashian (at least on the west coast) takes a self-referential dig at people who’ll do anything for publicity (and reveals she’s been in the bathroom since the opening tease.)
This is a much better live episode than the first one “30 Rock” did. The first time I found the attempts at single camera style cutaways jarring, and if you’re using the live gimmick why try to shoehorn your standard format in? This time I felt the cutaways were totally organic to the story, since they all involved live TV.
I also appreciated all the little details they were able to achieve with live TV. A twitter follower had to clue me in to Fred Armisen’s sneaky cameo as a silent Frank Rossitano in one scene. I missed it the first time. He also shows up in the telethon phone bank. Bowden had several pleasant costume changes. Little touches for the different time zones added flavor too (I’m told it was Sir Paul McCartney for the east coast feed instead of Kim Kardashian?) And the timely updates of the “30 Rock” live theme song work too.
The spoofs of television through the decades were just a joy. The news segment exemplifies “30 Rock’s” ability to tackle issues like sexism without preaching but with scathing satire. Ditto for the blackface sitcom. They are also poignantly character based. We know Tracy Jordan is an attention hog and that’s how that personality type is created. And Jack has been so devoted to NBC his whole career, of course he began as a lowly phone operator.
“Live from Studio 6H” forwards the plot for many characters (Jenna especially) and speaks to the themes of network change that Jack has been addressing all season. It works as a standalone since the issue of pre-taping “TGS” is only introduced in the opening. I wouldn’t want live shows to become too regular a thing but if they have another great reason for doing one, this episode sets the bar.