30 Rock returns to the NBC lineup with its fifth season on Thursday September 23 at 8:30 PM ET. Jack McBrayer, who portrays Kenneth Parcell on the show, recently held a conference call with executive producer Robert Carlock about the show's new season and here's what they both had to say:
Everyone's really looking forward to you know this live episode. There's a lot of hype about it so it's so different from any of the past episodes, I was just wondering how are you two preparing for that?
Robert Carlock: We just read an early draft of it today. We're mainly preparing by trying to be as far ahead of it as we can be. It's sort of a - you know it's a new thing for us, it changes the way we write the show because we're used to being able to do a lot of things really quickly and cut away in a lot of scenes and a lot of flashbacks. And trying to keep the tone and the pace of the show the same within the limitations of - just from a writing standpoint, the limitations of doing a live show is really different and really fun in a lot of ways. So I think we have trying to do sort of a weird way we can still do flashbacks where maybe other actors play our actors in flashbacks just because we want to do all of it live and we can't have people you know teleport across to another set. So we're trying to make it - the challenge from the writing standpoint to us is try to make it feel like a 30 Rock show while only say having access to three sets when usually we're out on location and that kind of thing. But mostly I'm preparing by trying to get a lot of sleep and doing pushups.
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Jack McBrayer: From an acting standpoint I know one thing that I'm really worried about is the number of mistakes that we make on a usual shoot, we don't necessarily have that luxury so cross your fingers friend.
Robert Carlock: Yes, the mistakes will be part of the fun Jack.
So what exactly should we expect to be at the start of this season based on what we saw with the finale with him leaving NBC for now?
Robert Carlock: Where do we pick up from?
Jack McBrayer: Yes, well I know from the Kenneth story line is he's dealing with at the end of last season he got fired and so I do get to explore like life after TGS with Tracy Jordan. And also it's fun to see how some of the other employees, the NBC employees are dealing with my departure. Other than that I think Alec is dealing with his girlfriend being pregnant.
Robert Carlock: Yes, you know we sort of did - last year was about doing a lot of - trying to have some big changes in people's lives and this season's about how those changes affect the show as we know it. And McBrayer didn't take the hand of us from Kenneth. He's still here. But you know Liz is in this ongoing relationship with this guy Carol, you know Matt Damon's going to be coming back some and Jack's dealing with jumping into a relationship himself. And Tracy's got some life changes and stuff. I think it's - you know we're picking up all of those threads to answer your question and the fun is seeing how it all kind of reverberates among our usual players. And also getting to see McBrayer wearing something other than stage costume.
Jack McBrayer: It's jarring. It will frighten you.
Robert Carlock: You don't recognize him. He's beautiful.
What can we expect fan wise from this season? I mean are there a lot of big surprises? You mentioned some of them already. But you've done so many great fun things, what can fans expect this time around?
Jack McBrayer: Well I think we do continue in the tradition of bringing in some wonderful and very talented guest stars so we're all excited about that. You know the actors, we always just get a kick out of having any scene to do with any of our guests coming on board. Otherwise the storylines continue to be absolutely absurd and crazy and that's super fun while also you know kind of tying up some strings that we left from the finale of last season.
Robert Carlock: And you know we were picking up as well - we didn't mention before the kind of changes at NBC and the Kabletown fun we were having last year and I think we're going to continue with that. Queen Latifah's coming on and I think episode 3 playing a congress woman who's kind of got a bull's-eye on that deal and trying to scuttle it. And she and Jack butt heads and that's really fun. I think she's coming back for one or two more episodes after that to sort of finish that out. So that's another one of these sort of big things we're dealing with. One of the fun things of doing the show is that we get to take stuff from the news a little bit and from our own lives. And hopefully not cut too close to the bone. But you know we'll - more of the same is our headline.
Jack I'm wondering are there any similarities between you and your character Kenneth?
Jack McBrayer: Well to some extent. I tend to be a people pleaser and I always try to be good at my job but I would love to think I'm not nearly as annoying as Kenneth. But I don't know, maybe my coworkers could say otherwise.
Robert Carlock: He refuses to take the costume off.
Jack McBrayer: Oh it's my costume. They didn't even dress me in that.
I was kind of wondering if you had any particular character or an actor that you kind of modeled Kenneth on? I feel like he's kind of you know very innocent character that reminds me a little of Rose Nylund from the Golden Girls and that everything at face value, you know doesn't really get sarcasm too much. Is there anyone that you kind of modeled that after?
Jack McBrayer: I think that's a pretty great one. Between that and a little bit of Barney Fife from Andy Griffith, I think you've got some of that in there. But no, I think that Rose Nylund that kind of hits the nail on the head. But yes, it's just you know out of the writer's heads and so I just show up and put on the suit and smile real big, I hope I'm cutting close to what they're aiming for.
Robert Carlock: One of the great things about Kenneth, especially early and this is not McBrayer, I'm not complimenting McBrayer. No, but that McBrayer can pull off that character is that he was kind of the glue - a lot of the times he remains it. But especially early in the life of the series in order to be able to allow someone like Tracy to do the crazy things that he does you needed someone who believed in him and no matter what he did. And it was a really crucial character for us from a writing standpoint in terms of setting the tone of the show. So we're very grateful to McBrayer for that.
Jack McBrayer: Thank you sir.
I just wanted to ask you about sort of the general approach of the show. I know that a lot of people look at 30 Rock and think that it is at its strongest when it is a "workplace comedy." It is these characters acting - you know interacting together. Last season especially there was a lot of kind of offshoots as Tina's character and Alec's character were kind of spending a lot of their time looking for love kind of outside that workplace comedy. How do you guys strike that balance and do you see 30 Rock these days as still a workplace comedy or something else?
Robert Carlock: That's a really good question. We always try to remind ourselves of and you know as I said last year we were very consciously trying to sort of broaden that world having been in it for three and a half years. But with the goal of using these new conditions in people's lives or these quests for love and new job or business ventures and take overs and that kind of thing to bring new dynamics back to - among our characters. Because yes, I think we tend to agree that we're at our best when it's Jack and Liz and Kenneth and Tracy and Jenna and her own neuroses. And you know so the fun is you know like we have an episode coming up where you know we've been talking about where Jack has given up drinking in solidarity to his pregnant fiancé/girlfriend and realizing that that is harder than he thought it was going to be. And that having an effect in Liz's life and similarly Liz now in a real relationship for once and it seems to be working, that creates different kinds of advice that Jack is giving her. And so to us it's always about you know pushing that horizon a little bit further but always with the intent of it coming back as you say to how it affects our people and always trying to remind ourselves that even though we have set a tone where we can kind of go anywhere and pretend to send Tracy to space or you know whatever. Have Jack be Thomas Jefferson or whatever that at the end of the day it does need to be a workplace comedy and hopefully those dynamics are getable for someone in any workplace. Ours just happens to yes, have a stage and cameras in it.
I was wondering if you could both talk a little bit about how the live episode came up because I think I read that Tina said that it was you know the episode you did during the writer's strike at UCB had something to do with it. And Jack I know you've been affiliated with UCB but also a little bit about the storyline for the live episode, okay?
Robert Carlock: Well yes I think that is true, you know it's something we talked about fairly early just when we looked at our roster of actors, all of whom - I mean you look at Alec's record on Saturday Night Live and on the stage, Tina obviously, Tracy at SNL, McBrayer as you say is a very experienced improviser, Jane is a Broadway star, Judah is a stand up comic. We kind of thought you know if this is the thing that shows do sometimes we certainly have the stable to do it. And you know then right, as Tina has said we did this sort of little benefit saying for the crew during the writer's strike at UCB theater in New York where we did an episode I think was airing that week or had...
Jack McBrayer: It was about to air. Yes, and I've got to say like it was invigorating for the cast to do something like that too. Even though we had already you know shot all the scenes for that and everything just to get response from a live audience and you know be able to feed off that energy it really does, it changes the energy and how you respond to it. So I know from the actor's point of view we are all psyched. I mean I'm quite scared as well but I'm really, really excited to see how it all turns out.
As one of those fans who loves Jack and Liz together I was really amused with how you played with that fandom last season during a lot of sort of tongue in cheek Jack and Liz scenes. Is that something that you might play with again this year or is that a dead letter because you know Matt Damon's on board or what's the plan?
Robert Carlock: Yes, I mean I think you know there's a broader point that we kind of have set a tone where we're able to do those kind of winky things as they come up. And I think it kind of depends on what the fan community is talking about. You know in a way I mean we get all that stuff and we have to see well where - especially if it is fun for them we like to put little winks and breaking of the fourth wall in there. Certainly yes, now that they're both sort of locked in relationships it's hard to what do they call the shippers online?
Jack McBrayer: What?
Robert Carlock: Shippers, for relationshippers.
Jack McBrayer: Wait, are they pretending that Liz and Jack are together?
Robert Carlock: They want it to happen, yes.
Jack McBrayer: Ew, who are these people?
Robert Carlock: Don't pretend it's not you.
Jack McBrayer: It's me.
Robert Carlock: It does you know throw a little water on that specific angle but it is - it's something we're always looking at and always sort of taking the pulse of and at least playing with if not just getting story out of you know sometimes. Come on, you're a shipper.
You mentioned that you guys try to take stuff from your own lives and from the news to make it - incorporate it into the show. Is there one thing you could tell us that happened on the show that happened to you or came from like an onset story? I'm kind of curious about that.
Robert Carlock: Boy, I mean there's one that comes to mind from ancient history about when Liz - it's first season why Liz and Peter Hermann, the Hair, fighting with that woman about $100 bill, that was sort of a bonding experience that happened to me and my wife.
Jack McBrayer: Is that true?
Robert Carlock: Yes, we were sort of fighting and then a toll booth operator wouldn't take $100 bill and we kind of - we rallied around our defense of American currency. And we grew closer together from it. Had a wonderful weekend. You know but it tends to happen. I mean there was a story where Jane - Jenna I should say out of jealousy for Tracy's upcoming birthday was pretending to be injured which was taken from a story that someone else brought from another job where an actress actually did that. She will go nameless, but can you think of anything McBrayer?
Jack McBrayer: Well no, I mean like there are always like tiny little things like either little bits or little lines or something and I know for Kenneth like it is no secret that Jack McBrayer enjoys eating chick peas out of a can with a plastic spoon because it's quick and to the point. No waste, no mess, no muss, no fuss. No dignity but I do know that everything that the writers, even stories that we're just telling at lunch and stuff, every now and then they will make their ways into the scripts. So you've got to be careful.
Kenneth's background has always been kind of a thing of mystery. So will we learn anything more about him this season or can you tell us anything about Kenneth's past?
Jack McBrayer: Honestly wish I knew more. I do love every now and then when I get these random like crazy flashbacks. I'm like what the hell, where - who is this person, where did he come from? But it's always a nice little treat every time you open a script and see something in there. But yes, I honestly...
Robert Carlock: It's our lost mystery. I think it's mythology, as long as we can stay on the air we'll continue to - I have an idea in my mind of what it is but we will continue to play it out. I mean we've done jokes that hint that he was at Normandy Beach, we've had him in a flashback from the 50s.
Jack McBrayer: I think maybe there's just a carbon monoxide leak at NBC. I am a group hallucination.
I wanted to ask about Alec. He said he was going to leave after season five and will he leave and if he leaves who replaces him? Will he go to season six?
Robert Carlock: Yes, you know I don't know what his contract is, I know it's beyond season five and yes, we don't really have any comment on his plans. He's the best - absolutely best at what he does and we you know love working with him and hope that continues for a long time.
Jack McBrayer: Yes, I second that.
I have another question about the live episode. You're going to be doing it I think out of A&H, right? Well that's going to be a challenge right, because you probably won't have that much time in there to rehearse.
Robert Carlock: Yes well I think it is and it isn't. They've certainly - you know and I used to work at SNL and Tina obviously did and (Lorne)'s the producer on the show so like the infrastructure is great. You're talking about bringing in a different show and trying to plug it in there, you know we've had a lot of meetings about the sets and we've got a kind of set layout and that tells a lot about what we can and can't do. And it's really you know just three or four sets plus little - you know one wall flats that you can bring in for little pieces.
Jack McBrayer: Also I think SNL is going to be off that week so we'll have a few days ahead of time to rehearse some stuff and march through stuff.
Robert Carlock: So we'll try to do more of a multi camera schedule where we - yes, rehearse Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and camera block on Thursday - excuse me, rehearse Monday and Tuesday and camera block on Wednesday and then I guess do the show. And then we're just going to do it on Saturday, right?
Jack McBrayer: And now I don't know if you know we are doing it twice, we're doing an 8:30 and an 11:30 for the west coast.
Jack McBrayer: I say improvement.
You guys mentioned that Queen Latifah will be guest starring, are there any other guest stars that will be on this season?
Jack McBrayer: He is so funny.
Robert Carlock: Oh my golly, golly, how did I forget that? The weeks just blend into each other.
Jack McBrayer: We've been sprinting through these episodes.
Robert Carlock: But he plays one of the editors at NBC.
Robert Carlock: Of course.
Were you disappointed that you got a little bit ignored in the Emmy's?
Robert Carlock: I mean you know you do the work and of course, it's a long year. There are great shows out there and you know a lot of people don't get nominated and we're very happy to be there. And it just means - as one of our writers said immediately after, we just have to work harder. That's what (Burnett) said after which I think might be impossible.
Jack McBrayer: For real.
Robert Carlock: But we'll do our best and I think you know the year so far is looking great. But it's fun just to go to Los Angeles and see McBrayer at the pool.
Jack McBrayer: Like a lizard on a rock.
Robert Carlock: Yes. But next year we're going to come at them hard.
30 Rock debuts its fifth season on Thursday, September 23 at 8:30 PM ET on NBC.