Tina Fey’s résumé is loaded with iconic comedic credits, from Mean Girls and Baby Mama to Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock and brilliantly hosting the Golden Globes with BFF Amy Poehler.
Now the woman who created Liz Lemon, hosted “Weekend Update” and perfectly impersonated Sarah Palin is the creative force behind the new Netflix comedy series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, (available March 6), with Office vet Ellie Kemper in the title role of a sheltered young woman who escapes a religious cult after 15 years and brings her sunny naivété to cynical New York City.
Jane Krakowski, Carole Kane and Tituss Burgess co-star in the series, which Fey co-created with Robert Carlock. We asked her about the show, life behind the scenes and her current binge-watching obsession.
“The upside of acting is getting your hair done and having people give you clothes. As long as I can still have a little bit of that in my life, it’s just as delightful to be behind the camera.”
How did you come up with the premise for the series?
There’s always a story about a lady starting over. But I don’t think we’ve seen a story with as much of a high-stakes reason for starting over. We really wanted to write a show for Ellie Kemper. What’s great about Ellie is she’s so innocent, yet strong and adorable and vulnerable, and also smart and fast on her feet. This idea of a woman who was in some ways stuck at age 13 or 14 but also has survived something really harrowing seemed to be a good part for her.
When you’re wearing your writer-producer hat, do you miss acting?
Having been a writer at Saturday Night Live I already knew the joy of writing for someone else and trying to get someone else to be funny. It’s very enjoyable to write jokes for Ellie and Tituss and Jane and Carol. The upside of acting in things is getting your hair done and having people give you clothes. As long as I can still have a little bit of that in my life, it’s just as delightful to be behind the camera.
How does working in the streaming format compare to network TV?
While we were editing the episodes we were able to let them play longer, take out commercial breaks, put jokes back that we’d cut, let moments breathe in a way that was very new to us. It immediately felt freeing. I’m excited that there will never be those promos along the bottom of the screen or the bug that says TV-13. But I would be thrilled to do another show for broadcast in the future.
Kimmy Schmidt was originally developed for NBC. How did it wind up on Netflix?
The show is made by NBC, so it’s in NBC’s best interests for the show to have its best home. And rather than trying to stick it on NBC between a multi=-cam comedy and a drama, they agreed that this would be the right place for it. Modern people aren’t always at their TV at 8:30 on Thursday or whatever. So it just makes more sense than broadcast, I think, for these kinds of shows.
I think you still have immediacy—people still have the communal feeling when the next season of Orange Is the New Black goes up. People watch it all at once, and they do want to talk about it or email about it. So you still have the communal feeling of, ‘We all want to see this and talk about it right now,’ but it’s just not at that specific hour of the night, which I think is cool.
Do you binge-watch shows on Netflix?
I do. I’m on Season 3 of Breaking Bad on Netflix. It’s really good. I watch that way mostly now, because I have young children.
You have a busy year ahead, producing and starring in The Taliban Shuffle next, and teaming up with Amy Poehler in Sisters.
Yeah, Sisters comes out next December. It’s really funny, it’s written by Paula Pell, who was a longtime SNL writer and 30 Rock writer, and it’s got a lot of really funny friends of ours in it.
Are you and Amy really done hosting the Golden Globes? You’re so good at it.
Thanks, but we signed a three-year deal, and this was the last one.
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