Let's just get this out of the way: Tina Fey has seen "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip."
"I watched the first one," Fey says of Aaron Sorkin's backstage-at-a-sketch-comedy-show show. "I think it looks very fancy, and Bradley Whitford is cute."
"Studio 60" is of interest to Fey, a former head writer and performer on "Saturday Night Live," because she has her own backstage-at-a-sketch-comedy-show show on NBC as well. It's called "30 Rock," and it premieres at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday.
That NBC has two series with similar subjects has been a popular discussion topic among professional TV watchers. Fey understands why, but she's confident viewers will get the difference between her show, a straight-out comedy, and Sorkin's, a drama laced with humor.
Fairly confident, anyway. "I think in tone they're going to be very different -- but yes, old people will be confused," she jokes. "Look for Alec Baldwin. If you can find Alec Baldwin, you know you have us."
Baldwin stars in "30 Rock" as new NBC executive Jack Donaghy, whose motto is "Sometimes you have to change things that are perfectly good just to make them your own." That's not good news for Liz Lemon (Fey), the creator and head writer of a sketch-comedy series called "The Girlie Show."
In his first week on the job, Jack pressures Liz into taking a meeting with mentally unstable movie star Tracy Jordan (Fey's fellow "SNL" alum Tracy Morgan), who then proceeds to storm the live broadcast and save a sketch that's circling the drain. Tracy's presence makes "The Girlie Show's" neurotic star, Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski), even more agitated.
"I think Tracy's character is one of the freshest we've seen written on TV, and I love his character so much," Krakowski says. "We've done so many fun scenes together. We're such opposites, our characters, that the hilarity that can ensue when we're together is great fun."
Krakowski wasn't in "30 Rock's" original pilot, which featured another ex-"SNL" player, Rachel Dratch, as Jenna (Dratch is still part of the show and will pop up as a number of different characters throughout its run). But after filming that version, which played up the fake sketches in "The Girlie Show" more, Fey rethought what she wanted to do.
"To see sort of canned sketches within the body of the show didn't really feel right," Fey says. "I saw it was going to be more of a straight acting part and wanted to rewrite it. Rachel and I are both very excited about this new direction -- it's a different way to use her range. She's so delightful when she's deep in character."
Having seen the original pilot, Krakowski ("Ally McBeal") knew more or less what she was getting into as well.
"I came in as a fan, and I just really didn't want to mess it up," Krakowski says. "I wanted to fit in as much as I could and bring as much as I could to the program. It was very interesting to kind of see what the product is before joining it. ... Because I loved it so much, I just wanted to do the best job I could."
Shows about show business have a pretty spotty record in the recent past -- in fact, "Studio 60" is drawing only so-so ratings early in its life. Fey, however, hopes viewers see that TV business in "30 Rock" is pretty much a backdrop, much the way that "Mary Tyler Moore" wasn't really about a local newscast.
Fey is not so bold as to compare the quality of her show with the 1970s classic ("We should be so lucky," she says), but she does think the framework of the two shows is similar.
"You're not really going to see the sketches on the show," she says. "You'll see the lives of these characters that work at the show."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times