Tina Arena

Writing about TV, I see a lot of pilot episodes. They’re not the best way to judge a new show, but they’re all we’ve got. Just two years ago, I watched the pilots for Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and 30 Rock; I thought the Aaron Sorkin drama was sharp and witty, while the Tina Fey sitcom was charming but a bit of a mess. I still don’t think I was wrong, but 30 Rock did something unusual: it just kept improving week after week as the ensemble came to life and the writing kicked into high gear, to the point where it’s now one of my favorite shows on TV and I eagerly await the beginning of its third season this Thursday. (Studio 60 pulled off an even rarer feat, getting worse every week it was on the air: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show decline so steadily.)

In late 2006, halfway through the first season of 30 Rock, I did a long sitdown interview with Tina Fey. It was actually done in two sessions, first during breaks on location at a Manhattan nightclub where Fey was filming the scene that includes her drunkenly performing a Janis Ian song, and then at Silvercup Studios in Queens (also, at that time, home to The Sopranos–cast members of 30 Rock reported seeing Sopranos actors using the studio’s bathrooms while covered in stage blood). During our conversations, Fey was polite, focused, and on the clock: as head writer, executive producer, and star of the show, her schedule was stuffed way past the breaking point, and as soon as we were done, she was supposed to be three other places simultaneously. (I can only imagine how crazy this fall has been for her with her new sideline as America’s leading political impressionist.) Read my interview for Fey dishing on Saturday Night Live hosts, lying about her jeans, and revealing her willingness to make out with Bill Clinton.

posted 27 October 2008 in Archives, Articles and tagged , , . 2 comments

2 Comments on Tina Arena

  1. Chris M. Says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more about the two pilots vs. the actual shows. Your impressions and mine dovetailed exactly: loved the Studio 60 pilot, was wary/disappointed by the 30 Rock pilot, and within two months everything had flipped around.

    (I remember vividly the moment I gave up permanently on Studio 60, stopping an episode mid-TiVo-playback and practically throwing my remote at the TV in frustration. I also thought, Man, this is why people in the middle of the country hate us! I live in New York and eat arugula, and even I thought that shit was smug!)

    Doesn’t this just point up the fallacy, as you suggest above, in judging shows based on pilots? A pilot is such a delicate thing. It has to get across basic exposition and 10,000-foot character development, which are often diametrically opposed goals from what makes great shows great: tone and character minutiae. Seinfeld‘s first five episodes were pretty lame, and I can believe the pilot of Cheers was pretty “off,” too.

  2. Gavin Says:

    The 30 Rock pilot got significantly better between the time I saw it and when it aired: not just replacing Dratch with Krakowski, which was good for the show, but tightening up a bunch of scenes and adding some good jokes.

    Fey told me that part of the reason for the steady improvement after the pilot was just that she had a writer’s room, whereas the pilot was all her.

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