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Trying Not to Break: Quick Thoughts on 30 Rock Live Experiment

I'll admit that I had very low expectations going into this week's live episode of 30 Rock ("Live Show") as I wasn't really sure how the multi-camera format and live audience would work with 30 Rock's narrative structure, given the series' use of quick-cutaway reaction shots, smash cuts, and imaginative structure.

However, I have to say that I was extremely pleasantly surprised. While the first few minutes of live laughter shocked me, I quickly settled in for what ended up being an entertaining experience, filled with more than a few laughs along the way.

Kudos to Julia Louis Dreyfus for being game enough to tackle Liz Lemon alongside Tina Fey herself; the smash cuts to "Liz" were not only surprising but managed to capture the fast-paced magic of the series and its often non-linear structure of flashbacks and flash-sideways, something impossible to do when filming live and without the slight-of-hand normally afforded to the editors.

High marks as well to fellow guest stars Jon Hamm, Matt Damon, Bill Hader, and Chris Parnell, who added some nice depth and surprise to the proceedings, especially with Hamm and Parnell's fake commercials for hand transplants and "Doctor" Leo Spaceman's "Love Storm" CD. Nicely played, guys. (It's always nice to see the goofier side of Hamm, especially.)

(Also a plus: the return of Rachel Dratch to 30 Rock, which is something I thought I'd never see.)

I also loved the way that Liz and Alec Baldwin's Jack referenced the difference in the look and feel of the live episode, with that final shot reverting back to the pre-shot film that 30 Rock typically uses. While I wouldn't want to see a live/multi-camera episode of the show each week, I thought that "Live Show" was an admirable experiment that worked more than it failed. While Tracy Morgan flubbed a few lines along the way, I thought that Fey, Baldwin, and Jane Krakowski knocked it out of the park, retaining a sense of screwball even while staying on script.

I'm curious to know what you thought of the live episode. Did it win you over in the end? Were you thrown by the laughter and the video-ness of it all? Would you want to see a live episode from another show? Head to the comments to discuss.

Meanwhile, you can check out both the East Coast and West Coast performances of 30 Rock's "Live Show" below.

30 Rock Live: East Coast Version:

30 Rock Live: West Coast Version:

Next week on 30 Rock ("Reaganing"), Jack basks in a perfect day brimming with successes and good fortune, so he tries to use his winning streak to save Liz and Carol's relationship; Jenna and Kenneth ask Kelsey Grammer for help with an ice cream scam; Tracy shoots a commercial for the Boys and Girls Club.


I felt the same way -- they did a great hilarious job and managed to retain the unique aspects of the show. You're right, the laughter was the most foreign element!
Hadley said…
I was also pleasantly surprised! While I wouldn't want a live episode every week, I thought that it was clever and still captured the spirit of the show in all its glorious zaniness.

The amazing guest cast was a treat too. Julia Louis Dreyfus was brilliant and Jon Hamm hit the hand transplant commercial out of the park.

Overall, I think it was an impressive and successful experiment and really showcased the talent of the cast, writers, and crew.
rockauteur said…
I thought the 30 Rock Live Episode was one of the worst things I've seen on the television in a long time. It was absolute trash and garbage. Having worked on live television, I have a first hand perspective at how hard it is to pull it off. But with the pros from SNL helping 30 Rock, and most of the players having come from SNL and other comedy troupes, they should have had no issue pulling it off. They did.

I love live television for putting the actors into a spot where they need to perform. If they mess up, its before America. And when they mess up, the audience laughs along. ROC LIVE, from FOX years ago, perfected the art of live television, doing their show weekly live.

30 Rock was awful. The writing was garbage. The acting was atrocious. It was like watching an extended bad SNL sketch for 30 minutes. It felt like two hours of television, not 22 minutes. The fake commercials were horrible; I didn't laugh once. I had to stop in the show in the middle and take a break to watch something else, before returning to finish. It wasn't funny. Its clear that the editors work their magic with Tracy Morgan. He was terrible.

The only clever beat was using Julia Louise Dreyfuss as Tina Fey in the flashbacks. I have expected to see Sarah Palin in a flash back or Megan Mullally after the first sight gag. Other than that, it was terrible.

Rachel Dratch was really annoying. There's a reason she was fired from the show - she is damn annoying! While it was surprising to see her, I hope I never see her again!
George Matusek said…
I'm a Midwesterner, so I watched the East Coast version "live," and enjoyed it. Sure, there were a few awkward hesitant moments and some of the writing could have been better, but I wasn't expecting sparkling repartee on a par with a Preston Sturges screenplay. As a first-time experiment it went off pretty smoothly. It was a treat to see Julia Louis Dreyfus give a performance up to "Seinfeld" standards (I did not care for her two post-Seinfeld sitcoms) and it looked as though she really had fun. Now, having seen both versions, I thought the West Coast one was slightly better.
-- George Matusek
Marcus said…
I thought this was amazing. I loved the episode, and I actually disagree with basically everything the one person said in the negative comment (two before this one), I thought they pulled it off great.

This is my favorite show on TV right now, and I was wondering how they were going to do it live and they pulled it off! There were little mishaps but it's live, it happens.

Rachel Dratch being back on the show was a def. plus. I loved her in season one when she played the random characters, and was sad she was never in the show again past that season until now, this was a great return for her and I hope they use her randomly from now on throughout the series.

The only person missing from this episode was Katrina Bowen who plays Cerie, her character hasn't been on all season, I wonder what happened to her. She was credited in the first two episodes and didn't even appear.

Julia Louis Dreyfus was great, and so was the random commercials. I was glad Chris Parnell came back, wasn't a fan of the CD, thought the West Coast CD was better (the songs seemed different to me, I only watched each once so I'm going to have to re-watch the east coast one again, which was the first one I watched.), but his character is always a great addition to the show.

Jane Krakowski is amazing, I'm glad I got to watch the East Coast version live because we got her singing the theme song which was a great treat, and she performed without a hitch. I would love to see her host SNL soon!

Over all - Great episode! This show is amazing, and I hope Alec B doesn't leave after this season, and it keeps going, because this is a solid cast, solid team of writers, and solid production crew, and this show is why I like watching television!

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