If you liked the 30 Rock finale, thank The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Frasier ... and iCarly.
For EW’s “The Art of Saying Goodbye” story, which ran in the April 11 issue, we interviewed the masterminds behind 10 iconic series, who discussed the formidable challenges of concocting the perfect farewell episode. Here, in a bonus Q&A, 30 Rock’s Exec Producers Tina Fey and Robert Carlock talk about the challenges of sending off Liz Lemon and Co. – and what classic finales they screened for inspiration.
EW How long did you know how you wanted to end 30 Rock?
Tina Fey There were some things that we knew and had even come up before the finale. We knew we wanted Kenneth to inherit NBC and we knew at some point that we wanted Liz to adopt children or a child. Originally it was going to be this child that Kenneth fathered by accident at the Beijing Olympics or something. It was gonna be this blonde hair Asian kid who looked like Kenneth. And then we…
Robert Carlock … backed off of that!
Fey …backed off of that and found different children. And then we thought we knew what we wanted to do with Jack and that was to be mayor of New York, but it didn’t work out with the timing of the real world.
Carlock Also, it ended up feeling as though, and we explored it, we even went down that path a little bit. We did a story in the previous season that was intended to set that up and A. We found that story didn’t set it up but more put a pin in it but also it felt like at the end we kind of wanted our characters if they could to continue in their orbits that we set up with each other and we felt with the finale, we really went down this road a lot, that if we had a finale of it and if an hour of it or a half hour was of Jack on his campaign or in his Mayor office, who was gonna talk to him? How was he gonna talk to Tracy?
Fey We said that Jack’s story was the one we were still breaking within a month of shooting. That was the one still on the table
Carlock At one point we even had him on that boat and sailing off. And we had a funny coda with him that he came back and that Tina wrote that he solved all of his problems in a minute on the boat Jack Donaghy style, when we read it at the table it felt much more satisfying, I don’t want Jack to go away from these people’s lives. The show has some heart.
Did you feel any obligation towards the fans when it comes to the finale?
Fey I think we had a tremendous obligation to write an ending that would be satisfying to them, but we didn’t solicit suggestions or see what people were…
Carlock … we talked to both of them and they disagreed so we thought ‘Well, this doesn’t help!’ We had a falling out.
Fey Most people don’t know that it is Statler and Waldorf who are the only 30 Rock fans.
Did the network have any expectations of how they wanted you to end it?
Fey They didn’t. I think they trusted us and by that point knew the show was its own weird thing and we had done the whole, we had married Liz mid-season which was ….
Carlock … very intentional not to end in a wedding.
Fey… to not let that be the accumulation of her time but to also let her find happiness.
Carlock I think they were happy that Liz was finding her version of a family, cause that was all up and running and we assured them that it would land in its own weird and sweet place. And then I think another part for us, as it always is with 30 Rock, and that is to tell as many stories as we possibly could, to give Lutz a story, to give Pete – I mean my two favorite things in it are Pete’s story, him trying to run away from his family and failing and Lutz trying to get some vindication for the abuse he’s suffered. It was nice in the family to be able to serve all of our great secondary characters.
Did you feel like you had to leave the door open for any characters for a possible future reunion or something?
Fey I don’t think we were thinking about that cause we were so exhausted and the thought about even doing one more episode, we were gonna drop dead. But we didn’t actually murder anyone so they could come back.
Carlock I have a mutual murder pact if we ever go back.
Did you ever think you needed to play it safe for the ending because of the intense scrutiny series finales can get?
Fey Not so much safe, but we watched a lot in the writer’s room leading up to it like at lunch or a break, we watch these classic TV finales and talk about it and as the weeks got closer and closer to ours it got more emotional. I remember Tracey Wigfield was crying when they wheeled Frasier’s dad’s chair out of the apartment and just tried to learn different things from each of them. One of the things we learned from that was that it’s okay to give your characters to give them an opportunity to actually say goodbye to each other in that body of that episode. You don’t have to worry if that’s cheesy or whatever.
Carlock Yeah, and that lead to Tracy pretending to act out in sort of an old fashioned way when the secret was that he didn’t want to, didn’t know how to say goodbye to every body. Two of our characters talk about those real, emotional things. That scene at the strip club, that’s our version of Frasier’s dad’s chair being wheeled out. But that was a good lesson to learn, above all we wanted it to be a 30 Rock episode and we told 9 stories in that hour.
Fey And we tried, though I don’t think he made the cut, like what were we doing, we were trying to introduce one new day player character like Asparagus Joe or something like that. He was a teenster who ate too much asparagus. But like what is happening but he didn’t make it for time but he was solid, he was funny.
Do things like Twitter make you nervous about the finale?
Fey From that night, I will say cause I had seen the episode so many times already in the edit room and such and I’m not on Twitter so I don’t know much, but we did have a laptop watching Twitter in real-time just by searching #30Rock or something and that was fun to see people reacting to it in different ways. I don’t think you want to let it lead you, but it’s perfectly interesting to see what the reaction is after its done and edited and posted and airing.
Does binge watching come into play while writing the finale?
Carlock Was that even a term a year ago? I guess so.
Fey We always talk about how the show is built for modern television in that you could rewind and go ‘what was that?’ cause there was always this stuff that was hopefully built for repeat viewing cause there were too many jokes in one minute. No, we didn’t talk about binge watching while writing the finale but hopefully it will hold up.
Do you think in general it’s harder today to write a series finale versus a time without DVR and DVDs?
Carlock Well, everyone gives an opinion now which doesn’t help. At the end of the day, you’re writing it not for yourself. You’re writing your voice and whoever the critics are have to…
Fey And it’s too late by that time. Once its aired, especially once the finale aired, there is no course correction. Definitely, we can’t take your advice until the Christmas special.
What do you consider the gold standard of TV finales?
Fey Frasier finale was really good. I always the iCarly finale cause I was moved to tears by the iCarly finale. Also, it’s like when you have kids and you flash back when they’re little kids and now they’re young adults.
Carlock Tina made us watch the iCarly finale. It was very well done.
Fey It didn’t hold up in the room because they didn’t know the characters like I did. But that was another one where they really let people say goodbye!
Do you really hold these finale screenings?
Fey Yeah, during our lunch break.
Carlock Yeah, like we said before. We watched Cheers, Frasier, Mary Tyler Moore.
Fey Oh yeah, that’s a classic. Mary Tyler Moore is a classic.
Carlock What’s shocking about that one is how little happens and how much you care about those characters. We didn’t feel like we could get away with that.