After winning the trifecta of best comedy series, actress and writing at the 2008 Primetime Emmys, gracing the cover of Rolling Stone’s fall comedy issue and delivering a spot-on impression of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin on “Saturday Night Live” in November, Tina Fey certainly ended 2008 with a flourish. But even though the market for Palin impressions has dwindled, the busy creator of NBC’s “30 Rock” has still managed to appear on the cover of the January issue of Vanity Fair and will star alongside Steve Carell in the 2010 release “Date Night” for 20th Century Fox. While shooting the film in L.A. in April, Fey took time out of her frenetic schedule to discuss her TV series.
Comedy always has an undercurrent of serious emotion, but have you ever considered writing a straightforward drama?
I almost feel like the two always have to be blended. You always want to have a story that people care about. It just makes telling the jokes so much easier, and likewise I wouldn’t want to watch a drama where the characters have no sense of humor. There really almost isn’t a division.
Do you enjoy acting as much as writing?
I enjoy acting, but I would be lying if I said there wasn’t increased enjoyment in acting in something that you’re also helping to create all around. You work on a show and you’re in the writers’ room and you’re pitching jokes, and if you helped write that joke there’s a satisfaction to that.
Does writing for your character make acting more comfortable?
Actually, I like to let the other writers for the most part take care of my character. I might adjust it, but I let them break the stories a lot of the time. I do better writing for the other [characters].
Do you enjoy the pace of a sitcom?
You’re doing it all the week of [airing] for “SNL,” but you also have a lot of genuine hiatus weeks. Whereas with “30 Rock,” once you start shooting and writing at the same time, it’s kind of a runaway train until we wrap. I do like the immediacy of television, that something you worked on even just a few weeks earlier is on TV.
Both you and the show have received a lot of Emmy attention over the last two seasons -- what kind of effect has that had on set?
It’s certainly something we’re all very grateful for. We work such long hours, so it’s nice for the cast and crew to feel like it’s worth it. We’ve all worked on shows where you’re just kind of getting dumped on all the time. It’s just as much work, so it’s certainly more pleasant to hear that your peers at least are enjoying the show.
Although “30 Rock” is a critical hit and it has a core group of fans, it has not been a blockbuster in the ratings. Do you attribute that to a fractionalized TV audi- ence?
Now that we’re after “The Office,” we do better than we did the first two years. So it’s really been great for us to be in that 9:30 slot, even though it’s one of the toughest hours on TV. It’s opposite “Grey’s Anatomy” and “CSI” -- even “Hell’s Kitchen” is a thorn in our side. That’s what I would be watching if I were home. I think TV’s so fragmented; it’s just not what it was. [“30 Rock” executive producer] Robert Carlock used to work on “Friends,” and he was selling his house recently and packing up boxes and he found an old ratings sheet from the ‘90s. He was just like, “Good golly!” Not only was “Friends” doing a 17 [share], so was “Survivor.” There just were clearly more people watching their TVs. It will be good for us when there’s a more accurate way to see how many times people watch things online.