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Tina Fey: Sarah Palin And 'Saturday Night' Satire

Tina Fey's impersonation of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin helped draw record audiences to Saturday Night Live this fall. Now, the former head writer for SNL opens up about politics, satire and her Emmy Award-winning sitcom, 30 Rock.

42:05

Other segments from the episode on November 3, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 3, 2008: Interview with Tina Fey; Review of Hip-o-Select’s set of Motown recordings from 1966.

Transcript

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Tina Fey: Sarah Palin And 'Saturday Night' Satire

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is Fresh Air. I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of TV show "Saturday Night Live")

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona; 2008 Republican Presidential Nominee): Good evening, my fellow Americans. I'm John McCain.

Ms. TINA FEY: (As Sarah Palin) And, you know, I'm just Sarah Palin.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Senator MCCAIN: The final days of any election are the most essential. This past Wednesday,
Barack Obama purchased airtime on three major networks. We, however, can only afford QVC.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That was John McCain with my guest, Tina Fey, as Sarah Palin two nights ago on "Saturday Night Live." Tina Fey's impressions of Palin have helped "Saturday Night Live" get its biggest ratings in years. We're going to talk with Tina Fey about her Palin sketches. But before we do, let's hear a scene from her NBC sitcom "30 Rock," which started its new season last Thursday.

Fey created the show as one of the writers and stars on it. "30 Rock" won this year's Emmy for best comedy series, and Fey won for best actress and best writing in a comedy series. She plays Liz Lemon, the head writer of a network TV sketch comedy show called "TGS." Jane Krakowski plays Jenna Maroney, the self-absorbed and shallow costar of "TGS."

In this episode, Liz has just done a pregnancy test and discovered she's pregnant after a one night stand with her ex-boyfriend. She hasn't told anyone, but Jenna found the test strip in the trash and knows the secret.

(Soundbite of TV show "30 Rock")

Ms. JANE KRAKOWSKI: (As Jenna Maroney) Oh my God, you're pregnant.

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) What?

Ms. KRAKOWSKI: (As Jenna Maroney) Yes.

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) How can you tell?

Ms. KRAKOWSKI: (As Jenna Maroney) I just can. People always underestimate my instincts
because of my looks.

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) This is no time for back door bragging.

Ms. KRAKOWSKI: (As Jenna Maroney) I'm just so happy for you. This is what you wanted.

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Yeah, but not like this.

Ms. KRAKOWSKI: (As Jenna Maroney) Why not like this, Liz? As my mom used to say, you never want this to happen. Have you called Floyd yet?

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) What? Floyd? You couldn't ask for a better guy to make a mistake with.

Ms. KRAKOWSKI: (As Jenna Maroney) Oh, no. It is Floyd, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Those Margaritas were strong.

Mr. DEAN WINTERS: (As Dennis Duffy) Oh, yes.

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Can you come inside? I need a couple of light bulbs changed.

Mr. WINTERS: (As Dennis Duffy) Yeah.

Ms. KRAKOWSKI: (As Jenna Maroney) Oh, my God. How could you have slept with Dennis?

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) It was before he tried to throw me under the subway train.

Ms. KRAKOWSKI: (As Jenna Maroney) Oh my God.

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Oh, so you're the only person in the world that's allowed to make sex mistakes? You had a three-way with Roseanne and Tom Arnold.

Ms. KRAKOWSKI: (As Jenna Maroney) That was two years ago.

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Fine. So I made one extremely unfortunate coupling decision.

Ms. KRAKOWSKI: (As Jenna Maroney) What are you going to do?

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Well, obviously, Dennis can't be involved because he is a class-A moron. So, I am just going to be a kick ass single mom, like Erin Brockovich or Sarah Connor.

GROSS: Well, the pregnancy test turns out to be a false positive. But Liz got so excited at the prospect of being a mother, this season, she's trying to adopt a baby. We'll talk with Tina Fey about "30 Rock" later, but let's start with her impression of Sarah Palin. A few weeks ago, Palin was a guest on "Saturday Night Live," and she very briefly shared the stage with Tina Fey. That edition opened with Fey as Palin at the podium for her first press conference.

(Soundbite of TV show "Saturday Night Live")

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. FEY: (As Sarah Palin) First off, I just want to say how excited I am to be in front of both the liberal elite media as well as the liberal regular media.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FEY: (As Sarah Palin) I am looking forward to a portion of your questions. So, let's get started. Yes, you.

Unidentified man #1: Yeah. What were your thoughts on Senator McCain's debate performance Wednesday?

Ms. FEY: (As Sarah Palin) You know, I just thought he was great because the American people are angry, and John McCain is angry, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FEY: (As Sarah Palin) And you can tell he's angry by the way he sighs and grits his teeth, and he's always going like, grrr.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FEY: (As Sarah Palin) You know, and that Barack Obama, well, if he's angry, I certainly can't tell. His words are smooth when he's talking. It's like an angel whispering in your ear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FEY: (As Sarah Palin) So, to answer your question, yes, I think John McCain did great. You, guy.

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah. At a rally in North Carolina this week, you said that you like to visit the, quote, "pro-America parts of the country." Are there parts of the country that you consider un-American?

Ms. FEY: (As Sarah Palin) Oh, you know, that was just my lame attempt at a joke. But, yes - New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, California.

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Ms. FEY: (As Sarah Palin) But, then, also, too, you have states like Ohio and Pennsylvania and Florida, which could be real, real anti-American or real, real pro-American. It's up to them.

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Ms. FETY: (As Sarah Palin) And now, I'd like to entertain everybody with some fancy pageant walking.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Tina Fey, welcome to back to Fresh Air. Again, congratulations on all the work you've been doing. What was it like for you when you - after the bit that we just we heard, when you and Sarah Palin actually crossed paths on the show?

Ms. FEY: Well, it was all well and fine and good. I sort of liked it that that was just this one tiny moment that we were physically together because I feel like there was this hunger for us to just stand next to each other and do a bit - a whole big thing together, and I kind of thought it was cooler to deny people that.

GROSS: Why?

Ms. FEY: And to just - just from a comedy point of view, I sort of feel like it's just inherently sweaty when you stand next to the person in the same outfit. It just seems inherently goony, and I thought it was a little cooler to do the backstage piece. I was glad that they went that way with it.

GROSS: What was it like to meet her after you've been mocking her? And they haven't been like affectionate caricatures. They've been really critical ones.

Ms. FEY: I felt comfortable in the fact that I felt that they were fair, and nothing in the pieces we had done was mean spirited or personal in any way. So I felt that I wasn't embarrassed to meet her or anything like that. And there definitely would be people in the past, just from doing "Weekend Update," that I would probably embarrassed to meet from the kinds of jokes that I had done over the years. And with her, I didn't feel that way. And it was fine. It was - she's very pleasant. She's, you know, very personable and nice and was very friendly to my family, and we chatted only briefly. But she's a perfectly nice lady.

GROSS: Would it be harder for you to - well, actually, you've done an impression of her since meeting her. Was it any harder to do it or - in fact, did you pick up things about her when meeting her that you were able to use on the subsequent sketch?

Ms. FEY: When we were rehearsing, I thought I should try to match her pitch. I should try - because I think that's one of the hardest things in having trying to do an impression for the first time ever is to remember where someone pitches their voice. And I think it helped a little the day she was there, but then I forgot. This whole thing has been sort of a "Flowers for Algernon" thing, where every time I do it, I'm like, wait a minute, that doesn't sound - gets a little weaker every time I try.

GROSS: When Sarah Palin came on the national stage, it was as if Americans around the country simultaneously said, "Tina Fey, she looks like Tina Fey."

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Who was the first person who you heard that from, and did you think it yourself?

Ms. FEY: I think my husband was the first person that I heard it from. I'm trying to remember now. I think we were - she was announced and then - I can't remember now how much we were seeing her before the convention. But the night that she spoke at the convention was probably the first real night that my husband was saying, you know, you really have to admit that there's a resemblance here, and he, in a completely affection way, describes us both as having long, collie noses like a dog, which is a high compliment from him because he's a dog-lover. And it was only a couple of weeks later, as "SNL" was gearing up, that I heard from Lorne, and he was sort of inquiring as to whether I wanted to do it or not.

GROSS: And did you say yes right away, or did you have to be convinced?

Ms. FEY: I really had to be convinced because I'm not an impressionist. I really admired people who are. I think it's a really - people who really have a gift for, like Darrell Hammond. I find that whole - it's so fascinating. I think it's a thing that from - when I was a kid watching the show, it's something I always kind of wished I could be, that kind of performer who could really do that stuff. So I was, you know, reluctant on that level.

And also, I wanted to try to get out of it. I wanted to try to just come on and make a joke about the resemblance and be done with it because I didn't know - I didn't want to feel like I was being super political, or that I was trying to go after her just by playing her. You know, I feel better about it now because if I'm sort of reminded that the show does portray everyone and - but I was just hesitant before doing it.

GROSS: So as you said, you know, impressions aren't your thing. You're not known as a caricaturist, but you certainly nailed a Sarah Palin impression. So what do you do to become her physically? And then we'll talk about what you do to be her verbally.

Ms. FEY: Well, physically, I wear a wig, obviously, that's modeled after her hair. We do - at my request, we glue my ears back because my ears stick out pretty significantly, and hers do not. And we overdraw my lip line because she has fuller lips, and she has the - I don't know if there's a term for this - but the pointy part on your upper lip, that's her doll baby part of - her lips are much further apart than mine. These are all things we've noticed in the make-up chair as we try to make me look like her. I try to stick my jaw out because she has a stronger jaw than I do. And I've a smaller mouth in general, so I try to make my mouth a little wider.

Also, sometimes, we a little bit do what's referred to as shooting upwards, position the camera a little lower than normal because it helps to sort of square-off my jaw. I got that tip from my make-up artist at "30 Rock," this guy Richard Dean, who's this really, really smart guy. He said, ask him to shoot up at you a little bit because you'll look more like her, and it does help.

GROSS: Now, how did you go about studying her voice so that you could get it and her vocal mannerisms?

Ms. FEY: I watched her a lot on YouTube. I watched the convention speech, and I watched, obviously, the Katie Couric interview the week that we did that. And because I'm not an impressionist, I started to try to work from the accent backwards because she does have a distinctive accent and dialect at work and stuff. Dialect work was something that I was kind of good at in my college acting days. We had a dialects course, so I started working backwards from that and really just trying to match, you know, instead of words like deal she says del and bala like she did for bailout. She sort of - she has what we call an e-e substitution. See, my theater degree is really paying off. And she has those kind of Minnesota Os and the really hard Rs, and when she's being sort of sassy, when she's, you know, taking a shot at someone, her voice tends to get higher, the example being, you know, I guess being a mayor is kind of like being a community organizer, she gets pretty pleased with herself up there.

And then I also try to think about - this is actually - I hope that somehow my college acting teachers hear this because they would be proud that I tried to think it through this much. But I did also tried to think of, does - people speak differently when they're doing public speaking? And so there's a little bit of, hopefully, a little bit of a difference between the one where I'm supposedly kind of giving a speech and then the one where I'm talking to Amy as Katie Couric, as people kind of ...

GROSS: Can you demonstrate how you hear the difference?

Ms. FEY: Well, there's a kind of a speech cadence of like, you know, John McCain and I are going to the White House - like there's a difference cadence that people use when they're on the stump, than when they are just speaking to another person.

GROSS: And speaking to another person, you'd sound like...

FEY: Now, I can't remember. It's the "Flowers for Algernon." But, you know, I've tried - in that Katie Couric one, she was just - she was way more intimate, and she was, you know, we've got a yah, just she was really more chatty and - as compared to the one that is the debate one. She - I felt like she kind of had the spirit of a very well-prepared high school debate captain, you know, and she was confident in her answers, in the ones that she had practiced. There was a - she was confident, but it was because she had studied for the test.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Since you mentioned the vice presidential debate sketch on "Saturday Night Live," we've put together a collection of excerpts of you from that vice presidential "Saturday Night Live" debate, so why don't we hear that? So this is my guest, Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, with Queen Latifah as the moderator, Gwen Ifill.

(Soundbite of TV show "Saturday Night Live")

Ms. FEY: (As Sarah Palin) You know, John McCain and I, we're a couple of mavericks. And gosh darn it, we're going to take that maverick energy right to Washington, and we're going to use it to fix this financial crisis and everything else that's plaguing this great country of ours.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. QUEEN LATIFAH: (As Gwen Ifill) How will you solve the financial crisis being a maverick?

Ms. FEY: (As Sarah Palin) You know, we're going to take every aspect of the crisis and look at it, and then we're going to ask ourselves, what would a maverick do in this situation?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FEY: (As Sarah Palin) And then, you know, we'll do that.

Ms. LATIFAH: (As Gwen Ifill) Governor Palin, address your position on global warming and whether or not you think it's manmade or not.

Ms. FEY: (As Sarah Palin) Well, we don't know if this climate changed hoozy-what's-it is manmade or if it's just a natural part of the end of days.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FEY: (As Sarah Palin) But I'm not going to talk about that. I would like to talk about taxes because with Barack Obama, you're going to be paying higher taxes, but not with me and my fellow maverick. We are not afraid to get mavericky in there and ruffle feathers and not got to allow that and also, too, the great Ronald Reagan.

Ms. LATIFAH: (As Gwen Ifill) Governor Palin, would you extend same-sex rights to the entire country?

Ms. FEY: (As Sarah Palin) You know, I would be afraid of where that would lead. I believe marriage is meant to be a sacred institution between two unwilling teenagers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FEY: (As Sarah Palin) Oh, and for those Joe six-packs out there playing a drinking game at home, maverick.

GROSS: That's so great. That's my guest, Tina Fey, as Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live." And Tina Fey's series, "30 Rock," has just begun on NBC, the new season, the third season. Oh, you were so fantastic in that. Now, you were talking about how you got the voice for that. You described that as the high school debate kind of sound, the practiced kind of sound.

Ms. FEY: For that one and when she came out, she said, can I call you Joe? And she just was, you know, you could tell she was - it was just that you could feel that everything that she was going to say was planned, which is, you know, how they all are in that. But that was just that something I tried to use.

GROSS: That was such a great line, when you came out and said, can I call you Joe because I've practiced a couple of zingers in which I call you Joe.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FEY: Yeah, well, I think it's Seth Meyers. He wrote - he's been writing all these pieces basically and doing a really great job, I think. And then, sometimes, you know, Amy or I will come in or whoever's in this piece will come in and be like, can I stick this in here? And it's been a great collaboration for me. I've enjoyed it tremendously.

And the original line that they had penciled in was something like, can I call you Joe, and he says, yes. I said, well, can we push this off a couple of weeks, Joe. It was the original joke and I'm - you know, honestly, I think, we started talking about Sarah. I feel like her attitude when she went there - that wasn't the right attitude for her. I think she was there. She didn't want to push it off a few weeks. She was really practiced and ready and gung-ho, so we changed the joke to, you know, to accommodate more of what we thought what was really going on that night in the debate.

GROSS: And was this joke yours about a marriage as a sacred institution between two unwilling teenagers?

Ms. FEY: That joke, I believe, is mine also. Yeah. And I think that's probably the toughest joke we've done in any of those. You know what I mean? It's maybe the harshest joke because it's close to being about her own life, which - but in some ways, it was one - I did it, and it's one of those ones I had a little tinge of like, oh, did we just do that? But at the same time, this is a person who is trying to, you know, who is talking about the issue of marriage and who's allowed to get married and who's not, and it seemed to me to be an interesting connection to make.

GROSS: My guest is Tina Fey. We'll talk more after a break. This is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Tina Fey, the creator and star of the NBC sitcom "30 Rock." She's the former head writer of "Saturday Night Live" and has returned this season to do her impressions of Sarah Palin. It's always difficult to satirize somebody without coming off mean yourself. And it's hard sometimes to satirize a woman without coming off as sexist or an African-American without coming off as racist. Since you are a woman and do have, you know, kind of feminist perspective, did you feel like you could satirize Sarah Palin without being accused of being sexist?

Ms. FEY: Well, it didn't - I wasn't worried about being accused of it because I know that - I know that it's not. I feel like you have to treat the female candidates equally with male candidates, and obviously, the show's been portraying all the male candidates for forever. And the - you know, the implication that she is in some way more fragile or should be treated with kid gloves always seemed kind of ridiculous to me.

And that first piece that Amy and I did that Seth wrote about sexism in the campaign, I thought he did really kind of an interesting thing with that, which was - it was Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin addressing sexism in the campaign, and there was this, you know, saying, so stop, you know, stop calling me a milf, and Hillary Clinton saying, stop saying I have cankles and stop saying - and basically, the point of the piece being like, whether it's negative attention toward our being female or positive attention, it's still a pointless distraction from, OK, what do you actually believe and what's your platform, and it's - so that was, I thought, was an interesting area there with that piece.

GROSS: In spite of everything that you've just said, were you accused of being sexist anyways?

Ms. FEY: I did see a clip of a woman who I believe is a McCain campaign person who was trying to say that it was - after that first piece, that it was sexist, which was funny because it was a piece about sexism openly stating that. And she couldn't even seem to really put it together.

And then I saw another guy that I kind of want to punch in the face. I saw another commentator the week that Governor Palin was coming on saying - I happened to see it in the daytime - saying like, well, those pieces have been OK, but that middle piece - being the Katie Couric piece - that middle one was really kind of mean, and Sarah Palin has been very gracious about Tina Fey, and Tina Fey hasn't been very gracious about her.

It made me angry on a couple levels. It made me angry because I know those pieces are not mean. And, if anything, I thought - oh, except, you know, maybe the possible exception of that marriage joke. If he had been talking about the marriage joke, I would have - maybe I'd be like, OK, that was a rough joke. But the pieces are not mean. And also, the idea to say that it's mean to her is like, no one would ever say, like, I thought that was really kind of mean to Richard Nixon when Dan Aykroyd played him. That's mean to George Bush when Will Ferrell plays him. It was inherently patronizing, I thought, because I think this lady is very strong and is not bothered or threatened by any of this, nor should she be.

GROSS: On a more trivial note, who chose what clothes to wear the night you and Sarah Palin were both on the show because you were dressed the same?

Ms. FEY: We were dressed alike, yes.

GROSS: Did her campaign decide what to wear, or did "Saturday Night Live" decide?

Ms. FEY: It was a collaboration, but it was - we have wonderful costume designer and costume staff at "Saturday Night Live" who do amazing things, like, you know, they watched - was the debate on a Thursday, the vice presidential debate, maybe? And then they called around trying to find the suit that she had on. They couldn't find whose it was, so they built it by Saturday. And they built identical jackets for us, and I think her campaign said, oh, she was going to maybe wear black, and they were sort of like, no, no, no, you've got to wear this.

She was very agreeable, and she lent me one of her flag pins because she - on the stump, she has like, you know, a shoe box full of flag pins because she needs a different one every day. It's a hazard of the - I'm sure Hillary Clinton has her own shoe box full of flag pins as well. It was cooperation, but it was a red jacket that our - that Dale Richards and his staff at "SNL" and Tom Broker, that they designed and built. And also, her hair people kindly made some adjustments to my wig.

GROSS: Really?

Ms. FEY: Yeah. They went in and helped our department sort of adjust the wig.

GROSS: This is Fresh Air. I'm Terry Gross back with Tina Fey, who you can see tonight as Sarah Palin on an election-eve edition of "Saturday Night Live." We're going to talk about her NBC sitcom "30 Rock," which started its third season last week. Fey created the show, writes for it, and is the star. This year, "30 Rock" won the Emmy for best comedy series for the second consecutive year, and Fey won for best writing and best actress in a comedy series.

Tina Fey plays Liz Lemon, the head writer of a network sketch comedy show called "TGS." Alex Baldwin plays the executive she reports to. Tracy Morgan and Jane Krakowski play the stars of "TGS." "30 Rock" is inspired in part by Tina Fey's experiences as head writer on "Saturday Night Live." She's also the former co-anchor of "Weekend Update."

Can you tell us one of the biggest similarities and one of the biggest differences between being a head writer in Saturday Night Live and being Liz, the character on "30 Rock" that you play?

Ms. FEY: Well, probably the biggest difference is that "Saturday Night Live" is a successful show, and the show within our show is kind of a smaller show. It's not an institution the way "Saturday Night Live" is, and there is no real Lorne figure in the world of our show. This is a show that Liz has created, and it's just a little smaller in scale.

GROSS: In the first episode of the new season, you want to have a baby. You want to adopt a baby because in the previews season, you thought you were pregnant. You hadn't intended to get pregnant, but you had surprise sex with your ex-boyfriend that got you pregnant. So now, you really want to adopt a baby. And in a scene from the first episode of this season, there's someone from the adoption agency who's come to your house to basically vet you, to see if you're a good candidate for adoption. So let's hear that scene. The woman from the adoption agency is played by Megan Mullally. So here's Megan Mullally and my guest, Tina Fey, in a scene from "30 Rock."

(Soundbite of TV show "30 Rock")

Ms. MEGAN MULLALLY: (As Bev) What was your reason for wanting to adopt?

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Thank you for that question, Bev. The world is a troubled place and so many children in need of adoption worldwide.

Ms. MULLALLY: (As Bev) Infertility? Or other?

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Other.

Ms. MULLALLY: (As Bev) How old are you, Liz?

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) 37.

Ms. MULLALLY: (As Bev) I should tell you right now, it's important that you don't lie. How often do you entertain gentlemen sex guests?

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Oh boy! That's a once a year, but I'd be open to cutting that down. Is that a safety thing because I can fix that.

Ms. MULLALLY: (As Bev) Do you ever run a webcam out here, Liz? Gentleman tell you what to do, you do it, at first, with some faint hesitation?

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) No. Is that on the form?

Ms. MULLALLY: (As Bev) Have you ever been convicted of a crime?

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) I was arrested once in Germany for public nudity. I thought it was a topless beach. It was a shipyard.

Ms. MULLALLY: (As Bev) You're a TV writer, Liz. How many hours per week do you work? Between 60 and 80? Is that a work call?

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Could be, or could be my annual sex guest.

GROSS: Tina Fey, before you became a mother, did you ask yourself some of the same questions that the adoption lady asks you in the scene that we just heard, like how many hours do you work, and how are you possibly going to do this?

Ms. FEY: I should have asked more. The thing that was so foolish was to leave "Saturday Night Live" and then have my daughter and try to do it. "30 Rock" was a bad timing because the "Saturday Night Live" schedule is actually better for parents because they have the summer off, and they don't have to go into work until the evening. So it's been a grueling couple of years, but it's been rewarding as well.

GROSS: How did you come up with the idea for "30 Rock?"

Ms. FEY: I had pitched a series to NBC that was set at a cable news station that had basically the Liz Lemon/Jack Donaghy dynamic in it. It was sort of a cable news producer and a conservative pundit who are often at odds. And NBC passed on the pitch, and I was on a development deal, so I was obligated to regroup and pitch again. And then I knew that I wanted to this Liz/Jack sort of dynamic, and then I somehow thought that Tracy Morgan would be a nice addition and make into a little sort of triangle.

And I was encouraged at the time to make it closer to my experience. I was encouraged by the network to try to write a show about comedy writers, and I was reluctant at first because I felt like writing about writing is always kind of deadly, and I also felt that "The Larry Sanders Show," which was so excellent, had really claimed that territory permanently. But when I realized I could maybe do a thing with Tracy and hopefully Alec and make this little triangle, and then the stories could come out of this sort of triangle of race, gender, and class, then it started to become interesting to me again.

GROSS: Was it hard to convince Alec Baldwin to do a regular part in a TV series?

Ms. FEY: He did the pilot, and I sort of foolishly didn't realize that he had only agreed to do the pilot. I had a lot of blithe ignorance at the time. I was like, it's going to work out fine. And I think he took it in steps of signing on for a little bit as we went, which I don't blame him for because you'll never know what a series is going to be, even just the day to day of, do I like these people? Do I want to come to this studio every day, possibly for years? But he has enjoyed his time, and he's fully signed up now, which is good because I don't think we have a show without him.

GROSS: My guest is Tiny Fey. She created, writes for, and stars in the NBC sitcom "30 Rock." Let's hear another scene from the show. Liz's boss, Jack, has just called her into his office. Jack is played by Alex Baldwin, Liz by my guest Tina Fey. Jack's assistant speaks first.

(Soundbite of TV show "30 Rock")

Mr. MAULIK PANCHOLY: (As Jonathan) I have all the latest Seinfeld Vision promos.

Mr. ALEC BALDWIN: (As Jack Donaghy) Wonderful.

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) What's Seinfeld Vision?

Mr. BALDWIN: (As Jack Donaghy) I realized that NBC owns hundreds of hours of footage of Seinfeld from his massively successful television series, "Seinfeld." So my old tech guys were able to digitally capture "Seinfeld" and now, we can basically make him do or say whatever we want. So for the month of October, all of our prime time shows will feature a computerized guest appearance from Mr. Jerry.

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Seinfeld.

Unidentified Woman #1: If you didn't kill her, why didn't you stay?

Mr. JERRY SEINFELD: Quit grilling me.

Unidentified Woman #1: Seinfeld Vision.

Mr. SEINFELD: Save the cheerleader. Save the world.

Unidentified Woman #1: Seinfeld Vision.

Unidentified Man #3: Deal or no deal?

Mr. SEINFELD: I'll take that deal!

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Does Jerry Seinfeld know you're doing this?

Mr. BALDWIN: (As Jack Donaghy) Jerry is in Europe with his family right now, but by the time he gets back, Seinfeld Vision will be a monster hit. And his kids will go to school, and their friends will say, I really loved your dad in that episode of "Medium" last night, and he's going to love it.

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Uhuh.

GROSS: Tina Fey will talk more about "30 Rock" after a break. This is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Tina Fey. We're talking about her NBC sitcom "30 Rock," which started its third season last Thursday night. Here's another scene from "30 Rock" that would give you a sense of how they sometimes make product placements a part of the joke. Here's Alec Baldwin as Jack.

(Soundbite of a "30 Rock" scene)

Mr. BALDWIN: (As Jack Donaghy) Last night, never mind. These Verizon Wireless phones are just so popular. I accidentally grabbed one belonging to an acquaintance.

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Well, sure, because that Verizon Wireless service is just unbeatable. And if I saw a phone like that on TV, I would be like, where is my nearest retailer so I can get one? Can we have our money now?

GROSS: So, did you actually get money for Verizon from doing this product placement that is also a joke about product placement?

Ms. FEY: Yes. That is some real product placement because "30 Rock" is an expensive program and not a hit, so we do whatever we can to offset that. And the times that we've done - we've done product placements three times, I think - and for me, the only boundary I have was, I wanted it to be overt enough that the audience would know that it was product placement so that it wasn't sneaky. Unless we suddenly become a giant hit, those are the things that we kind of have to try to offset those costs.

GROSS: My guest is Tina Fey, and she's the creator, star, producer, and one of the writers of "30 Rock," which has just started its third season on NBC. She's the former head writer of "Saturday Night Live," and lately, you've been seeing a lot of her as Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live."

Let me ask you about Tracy Morgan, who plays one of the stars of the sketch comedy show that your character is the head writer of. And people always wonder, what are the similarities and differences between Tracy Morgan the actor and Tracy Jordan, the character that Tracy Morgan plays. Tracy Jordan the character is not very bright. He's always getting into trouble. He's recently made a lot of money doing a porn video, producing it.

Ms. FEY: A porn video game.

GROSS: Yes, porn video game. So, Tracy Morgan had already a lot of, like, problems before you casted him in the show. I mean, there were two driving-under-the-influence violations. There was a period when, I think, he was thrown out of a couple of night clubs or barred from them. Were you concerned about working with him because of those problems in his past?

Ms. FEY: Well, I think some of those things happened while we were already working. But I knew Tracy from "Saturday Night Live," and I knew he was a guy who comes to work and does his work. He's not at all a volatile presence in any way on the set. He's a very sweet, easy-going guy. Obviously, when he was having trouble, I thought, I really don't want him to, like, to go to jail because I don't want to have to shoot around it.

But if anything, I was more concerned he had some health problems last year. He's diabetic, and he's one of those special diabetics that likes to also eat candy. And so he had some health problems last spring that actually, that was the most troubling, was when he was sort of genuinely really sick. And he's doing a lot better now. He's acting like a person who has diabetes, which is good. He's truly a unique and weird and wonderful presence to have on the show. Other than him just being too sick to be there, I was never worried about whether or not it should be Tracy.

GROSS: When you won the Emmys, one of the things you said in your acceptance speech was that you wanted to thank your parents. You said, I want to thank my parents for somehow raising me to have confidence that is disproportionate with my looks and abilities. Well done. That is what all parents should do. And there's a scene from "30 Rock" that that is reminiscent of, when your character's, Liz Lemon's, parents visit the set, and they're being like so nice, and Alec Baldwin's character of Jack thinks there might be something wrong with them.

Ms. FEY: And so foreign to him.

GROSS: And so foreign to him because his parents are nothing like that. So let me just play the scene.

(Soundbite of a "30 Rock" scene)

Mr. BALDWIN: (As Jack Donaghy) Is everything OK?

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Yeah, why?

Mr. BALDWIN: (As Jack Donaghy) Your family is strange.

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) Oh, Mitch. No. He was in a skiing accident, and he thinks it's 1985.

Mr. BALDWIN: (As Jack Donaghy) Oh no, not him. I'm talking about your parents. What did your mother mean when she said that you were a beautiful genius? Was she taunting you?

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) No, they were just super supportive. They've always been like that, even when I sued the Lower White Haven School District to let girls play football.

(Soundbite of a football game)

Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah, (unintelligible) them.

Ms. FEY: (As Liz Lemon) We didn't make the playoffs that year, but I think we led the league in bravery.

Mr. BALDWIN: (As Jack Donaghy) My God. I've never seen such relentless blind encouragement. No wonder you were sexually frightening.

GROSS: That's a scene from "30 Rock" with my guest, Tina Fey, and Alec Baldwin. So, since you described your own parents as raising you with so much confidence disproportionate to your looks and abilities, tell us a little bit about your parents and what you think they did right in raising you.

Ms. FEY: I think they did a really good job because I really was always raised to believe like, yeah, you can do whatever you want, and there was a lot of praise, but there was also a lot of boundaries. And my brother and I, neither of us ever really got into trouble. And when we were trying to figure out what the characters of Liz Lemon's parents should be like, there was an initial pitch in the room of like, oh, maybe they're really disapproving, or they make her feel whatever. And I said, you know, honestly, guys, that's so foreign to my experience. But also, it felt - well, it's a little bit familiar as a sitcom thing, of like the parents come and make the single girl feel bad about herself, you know.

I said, you know, let's sort of - in this case, let's maybe work backwards from my experiences, which is just - I had had an experience where my parents came to visit me at "SNL" when I was a new writer there, and they met another friend of mine who was a writer, who, like Jack Donaghy, he had grown up in kind of a tough family. And my parents came in the room, and my mom ran over and hugged me and kissed me on the face and grabbed my face and said, that's my baby!

And my friend was like, I don't even know how to process this. I don't even like - she was like - the story kind of came from that - that she was like, I don't know what this is. I don't know parents like this. I don't understand this. And so that difference between Jack's life and Liz's life is what we sort of use as a jumping off point. What I should clarify is that my brother is nothing like Andy Richter's character.

GROSS: One more question. In spite of the fact that everybody, when they saw Sarah Palin, said, Tina Fey! She looks like Tina Fey! When you leave your house as yourself, how likely are you to get recognized? Like how big is that similarity when you're not in any kind of costume, and you're not even dressed up for "30 Rock" or "Saturday Night Live," and you're just leaving the house as you.

Ms. FEY: I will say that, since the Sarah Palin thing happened, there is a significant change in how often I am recognized on the street. It's a very weird thing to experience having - I was on "Saturday Night Live" for six years, but this has been a strange kind of life-changing thing. And it doesn't matter - it seems like it's almost a guarantee that, if I leave my house with no make-up on and dirty hair, that I will immediately be recognized by someone.

GROSS: So you've got to be on your guard.

Ms. FEY: I should be on my guard a little bit.

GROSS: Well, you've got to go. I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. FEY: Thank you, Terry. It's a pleasure.

GROSS: Tina Fey is the creator and star of the NBC sitcom "30 Rock," which started its third season last week. You can see her tonight on a special election eve edition of "Saturday Night Live."
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Motown Year By Year: Hip-O Select Surveys '66

TERRY GROSS, host:

1966 was a great year for popular music in the United States and Britain. So it should come as no surprise that it was also a great year for Motown Records. Our rock historian, Ed Ward, has been reviewing the sets that Hip-O Select has been issuing of Motown's complete output of singles. Today, Ed takes a look at volume six, which covers 1966, a signature year in Motown's history.

(Soundbite of song "Ain't Too Proud to Beg")

THE TEMPTATIONS: (Singing) I know you want to leave me, but I refuse to let you go.
If I have to beg, plead for your sympathy.
I don't mind 'cause you mean that much to me.
Ain't too proud to beg and you know it.
Please don't leave me, girl, don't you go.
Ain't to proud to plead, baby, baby.
Please don't leave me, girl, don't you go.
Now, I heard a cryin' man is half a man with no sense of pride.
But if I have to cry to keep you,
I don't mind weepin' if it'll keep you by my side.
Ain't to proud to beg, sweet darling.

ED WARD: In July of 1966, Berry Gordy of Motown Records solemnly announced that, we will release nothing less than top 10 product on any artist. And because The Supremes' worldwide acceptance is greater than the other artists, on them, we will release only number-one records. For any record company at any time, this sounds either naive or insane. But at Motown, it must have seemed like an ordinary mission statement.

By the end of the year, 22 singles had reached the pop top 20, three had hit number one, and a full 75 percent of the company's releases had at least charted on the pop charts. The statistics for the soul charts were even stronger because the year's excellent pop records weren't competing for the slots. Listening to the 225 songs in this set is almost like listening to a hits compilation so many of the songs are familiar.

Even the B sides are tremendous. I remember my friends flipping The Temptations' "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" over and discovering an incredible ballad on the other side.

(Soundbite of song "You'll Lose a Precious Love")

THE TEMPTATIONS: (Singing) One day you will begin to realize
By the look that's in my eyes,
How much I love you, love you.
And if you leave, you'll lose a precious love,
You'll lose a precious love.
Somehow...

WARD: It was just another jam by Smokey Robinson, who, along with the Holland-Dozier-Holland team, were writing and producing masterpieces like there was no tomorrow. In fact, the Holland-Dozier-Holland team made a discovery in 1966 that would revolutionize their output, Bob Dylan.

(Soundbite of song "Reach Out (I'll Be There)")

Mr. SMOKEY ROBINSON: (Singing) Now, if you feel like you can't go on because all of your hope is gone,
And your life's filled with much confusion until happiness is just an illusion,
Happiness is just an illusion.
And the world around is coming in doubt.
Darling reach out.
Come on girl.
Reach on out for me,
Reach out.
Reach out for me.
I'll be there with a love that will shelter you.
I'll be there with a love that will see you through.
When you feel alone.

WARD: Lovers of German opera called Sprecht leise (ph), that not-quite-spoken, not-quite-sung quality Dylan made popular with "Highway 61 Revisited," and the Four Tops' Levi Stubbs found was something he could do real well himself. What's ironic is that, in 1966, Motown had, if not Bob Dylan, someone very much like him, but he left the label under bizarre circumstances. He played guitar in a Canadian band the label would sign, the Mynah Birds.

(Soundbite of song "It's My Time")

THE MYNAH BIRDS: (Singing) I really love you, darling with a love that's so strong and so fine.
Nothing in this whole wide world would ever make it change my mind.
It's my time, baby.
I really don't care what you say. I truly love you anyway.
Yes, I say that I'm going to love you anyway, yeah.

WARD: With a black lead singer who called himself Ricky Matthews, the Mynah Birds had had a small hit in Canada when Motown signed them to their VIP label. But Ricky was an AWOL sailor from America, and for some reason, the band's manager told Motown. The label advised him to turn himself in and come see them when he paid his debt. Disgusted, the guitarist and bassist, Neil Young and Bruce Palmer, headed to L.A., where they'd start Buffalo Springfield.

Ricky went to jail, and on his release, went back to Motown, where he was eventually reborn as Rick James. Not every group on Motown was successful, even with great material. The best example is the Isley Brothers, who, in their years with the label, seemed to suffer from indifferent treatment. One fascinating document from 1966 was a B side in which they performed the song another Motown group would hit with the next year.

(Soundbite of song "I Hear A Symphony")

ISLEY BROTHERS: (Singing) Whenever you're near, I hear a symphony,
A tender melody pulling me closer, closer to your heart.
Then suddenly, ooh your lips are touching mine.
A feeling so divine til I leave my past behind.
I'm lost in a world made for you and me.

WARD: The arrangement here is far superior to the Supremes' version, more fake classical and, in my opinion, a stronger version over all. As the year came to an end, a record appeared that summed it up while pointing to the good and bad things about to happen. Stevie Wonder was getting older and in just a couple of years would make history by bucking the Motown factory system. In 1966 though, all he did was record a Christmas single.

(Soundbite of song "Someday at Christmas")

Mr. STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) Someday at Christmas, men won't be boys,
Playing with bombs like kids play with toys.
One warm December, our hearts will see a world where men are free.
Someday at Christmas, there'll be no wars,
When we have learned what Christmas is for,
When we have found what life's really worth,
There'll be peace on earth...

WARD: No candy canes or Christmas trees in this song, just wishes for a world free of bombs and racial intolerance. The spirit of Bob Dylan and the times had begun to infiltrate Motown in 1966, and things would never be the same there again.

GROSS: Ed Ward lives in Berlin. He reviewed the "Complete Motown Singles Volume Six" 1966 on Hip-O Select. You can download podcast of our show on our website freshair.npr.org.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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