Things got better once she left SNL in May 2006 and began shooting Rock full-time, and as Fey relaxed, her show got looser and a lot funnier. Jack and Liz's relationship went from blowhard-versus-fussbudget to a mismatched-mentor/reluctant-mentee friendship. ''Alec, rightfully, didn't want his character to be a jerk all the time,'' explains Fey. ''His thing is 'I don't want it to be Revenge of the Nerds, where I come in a room and people go Uuuugh.'''
The idea now, says Fey, is to make a show that's relatable to ''anyone who works in an office.'' But that hasn't stopped her from working in some personal details: Both Liz and Fey were once rejected by a man who later went to clown college. Real Studio 8H experiences also inform Rock's repertoire. At SNL, a ''potential host who shall remain nameless'' lost the late-night gig because he couldn't read. Cut to episode 5: Tracy discovers that Liz thinks he's illiterate, and proceeds to exploit her white liberal guilt. And Liz's episode 14 freak-out after one of her writers uses a genital-based slur to describe her? ''That C-word thing actually did happen,'' says Fey. ''I was furious, and I had this weird reaction where I kept saying, 'You can't say that! My parents love me!''' SNL's Amy Poehler, who's known Fey for 15 years, says her former ''Weekend Update'' cohost has always had a knack for turning fury into comedy: ''Tina's not really a screamer. The angrier she gets, the quieter she gets. She tends to keep it tight, and then explodes with a well-written rage diamond.''
30 Rock's last three episodes of the season won't be quite as reality-based: Tracy learns he's a descendant of Thomas Jefferson, Jack falls in love with a Christie's auctioneer, and Liz contemplates a move to Cleveland, where people think she's a model. With the show's surprise pickup and the move to 9 p.m. on Thursdays, after The Office Fey knows she's got just one more shot to woo enough viewers to justify her series' existence. ''I feel like in the second year we've gotta get people to watch the show. This is a business you can't be like, 'Don't you understand? We're geniuses!'''
There would be one upside to cancellation: While Alice usually visited her mom on the set once a week during Rock's five-and-a-half-month shoot, many days Fey left the house at 6 a.m. just as her baby was waking up and didn't return until 9, just as Alice was going to sleep. ''It's brutal,'' she says. ''At least I can bring my kid to work, which you can't do when you have a normal job. That might be why, when people say, 'Aren't you worried about the ratings?' I'm always like, 'Nope. If this thing goes down, I will see my kid.''' The whole experience especially those times this past winter when Alice had a cold, and Fey clocked 14 hours on set and then spent half the night awake with her fussy tot has given her a profound new respect for working mothers: ''That lady next to you at your day job probably got thrown up on last night.''
Sounds like a nice, long, ideally upchuck-free hiatus is in order. But Fey and Richmond's family vacation will be brief: On May 15 she'll begin the six-week shoot for Baby Mama, an upcoming Universal comedy about wouldn't you know it? the perils of being a working mom. Fey plays a single career woman who wants a child, while Poehler is the ''disreputable, white-trash surrogate'' she hires to get the job done. If this whole sitcom thing doesn't work out, Fey says she can imagine making the leap to a full-time film career. ''Sometimes I think that would be a better lifestyle. That might be the future of things to write movies or to punch up movies, work from home.'' The problem is, she can't imagine breaking up with TV for good. ''There are so many plus sides to television you can write something and people get to see it so much faster,'' she muses. ''Movies go so slowly and fall apart so much of the time.'' Perhaps, then, a compromise: For her next TV project, maybe Fey could select one job creator, star, head writer, exec producer instead of all four? ''People have said, 'What if you do a show and you're not in it?' I was like, 'I would have been here just as much, but looking really scrubby,''' she says, gesturing to her outfit of jeans, blue sneakers, and a gray 30 Rock hoodie. ''If I'm going to be here, I'd really like to have my hair done and have the camera pointed at me.''
5 Reasons to Watch 30 Rock
By star and exec producer Tina Fey
1. Alec Baldwin as a right-wing corporate alpha male is way hotter than a bunch of fake doctors getting it on.
2. Enjoy Kenneth the Page (Jack McBrayer) now before he gets his spin-off, Kenneth: Portrait of a Serial Killer.
3. We strive to have the highest joke-per-minute ratio since 1-800-Dial-a-Joke.
4. At long last, Paul Reubens, Sean Hayes, Will Arnett, Isabella Rossellini, Ghostface Killah, and Elaine Stritch all in one place!
5. You're already watching The Office. Just sit still, for Pete's sake.