"30 Rock" first tried live television in October 2010 with an episode performed during the show's normal time slot, then re-staged for West Coast viewers. The same plan will be followed this week. Originating from NBC's Studio 8H, home of "Saturday Night Live", "Rock" will air live for viewers in the Eastern and Central time zones at 8:30 p.m. EDT, then be reprised at 8:30 PDT for the rest of the country.
The success of "30 Rock" rests, at least in part, in the show's ability to keep up its trademark rapid-fire comic dialogue with a minimum of repetition.
That said, Thursday's plan to take "30 Rock" live from New York for the second time in 18 months, marks a welcome return to the gimmick for a show set in the home of high-wire comedy-without-nets TV. "30 Rock," more than any primetime comedy, is built for live television.
The live show-within-a-show premise helps fuel the manic pace. Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan and Alec Baldwin all made indelible marks on "Saturday Night Live," the longest running live network TV comedy program.
Sure, "30 Rock" relies heavily on cutaway gags easier to handle on a cartoon like "Family Guy." But part of the fun of watching the live shots is seeing how the performers pull off the quick asides – as with Julia Louis-Dreyfus doubling for Fey in the 2010 effort.
We'll see whether Thursday's show emerges as a highlight in a very strong sixth season for a motor-mouthed show we feared would run out of breath before the end of Season 1.
Fey and her writing team, in their latest go-around, cleverly addressed pre-season controversies by making Morgan's Tracy Jordan a spokesman for idiots and setting up a possible mayoral run for Baldwin's Jack Donaghy in a “Dark Knight” spoof. The introduction of holiday hero Leap Day William and Kristen Schaal as an NBC page with a "Fatal Attraction"-like girl crush on Fey’s Liz Lemon injected new whimsy into the mix. Winning guest spots by the likes of Jim Carrey, Mary Steenburgen and Susan Sarandon transcended mere stunt casting.
We'll see who shows up for Thursday's meta episode, which centers on Kabletown's plan to stop airing "TGS" live and instead tape it ahead of time to save money. It may be asking too much for "30 Rock" to go live every week – but we’re glad that the live shows arrive more often than Leap Year William. Check out a preview of sorts below:
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.