Adam Bernstein was one of the directors working on the first season of NBC’s Tina Fey-created critical darling “30 Rock”. While filming a scene during the first season of the series, he held up his thumbs to frame a shot. For unknown reasons, this made Alec Baldwin angry, appearing on the show as the hilarious Jack Donaghy, Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming for General Electric.
“According to [editor Doug] Abel, Alec turned [Bernstein] and said that if he did it again, he would attack him. And he did not say it with a smile on his face, “writes Mike Roe in his new book,” The 30 Rock Book: Inside the Iconic Show, from Blerg to EGOT, “(Abrams Press), which was published on November 30.
Abel believes that the enmity between the two was one of the reasons why Bernstein – who continued to direct episodes of “Breaking Bad” and “Fargo” among others – left the show in 2007 after only 6 episodes.
On “30 Rock,” which premiered in October 2006 and ran for seven seasons, Baldwin won two Emmy Awards and three Golden Globe Awards for his portrayal of Donaghy, one of television’s all-time great characters. But this new book shows that even though he collaborated with the good friend Fey, Baldwin’s reluctance towards the show created a lot of discomfort along the way.
Bernstein was not the only director who had problems with Baldwin.
“Alec is a little challenging,” admits Paul Feig, whose instruction includes “The Office,” “Bridesmaids” and 2016’s “Ghostbusters” in addition to the 2007 “Cleveland” episode of “30 Rock.” “[He] turned out to be the least fun to work with. ”
Feig believes Baldwin was influenced by the uncertainty surrounding whether the show would succeed, which also led to Baldwin being less open to improvised scenes that could take longer.
“In Alec’s case, he said, ‘I just want to go in and out,’ [especially if] you wanted to do something detailed … more than a few takes, “Feig is quoted as saying.
“Alec is so ingenious that you get something amazing in twice. It’s just that as an instructor, you say, ‘Oh, try this’, because maybe I could even make it ten percent bigger, and he just says,’ No, we got it ”.
When Baldwin and Fey first met years earlier, things could have gone differently if Fey had not been romantically linked.
“When Baldwin first met Fey, he had asked SNL talent coordinator Marci Klein if Tina was single – at which point Klein pointed to Tina’s husband, [SNL music director] Jeff Richmond, out to the side, ”Roe writes. “While Baldwin was initially dismissive of Richmond and wondered what she saw in him, he later developed respect and admiration for Richmond and his talent.”
When Fey first pitched a show for NBC director Kevin Reilly, it was for Baldwin to play “a right-wing host, a la Fox News rating champion / blowhard Bill O’Reilly.”
Reilly passed and suggested instead that she do a show based on her SNL background. Fey was a little enthusiastic about the concept until Richmond, who composed the music for “30 Rock,” suggested keeping the conservative Baldwin character. It was Jack Donaghy.
But Baldwin, with a long film resume under his belt, felt like a TV series was under him.
“When he was contacted in 2006 to make television, it was something he had never wanted,” Roe writes. “He was a film and theater actor before the advent of streaming, when the world was still turning its nose up at the smaller screen.”
Actor Matthew Broderick said in the book that once Baldwin agreed to make the show, “he complained bitterly”, and Bernstein mentioned that the show “never really had him” because Baldwin never agreed to a full-season deal until the show’s last season.
“Baldwin eventually agreed to make the pilot, but all he wanted to commit to was six episodes per season, for up to six seasons,” Roe writes.
Baldwin agreed to film three days a week, Tuesday-Thursday, and would eventually agree to stay for one season when the series’ extra episodes were picked up by the network. (Sitcoms often got an order of 13 episodes or even fewer, with another nine or so added only after the network sees promising ratings early in the season.)
But the following season, Baldwin bowed again.
“Every year, Alec would say, ‘Help, it’s been a lot of fun, but I can not wait to go and make this indie movie while you record the last nine. [episodes]”30 Rock” author Andrew Guest told Roe. “He wanted to dangle it over Tina’s and [showrunner Robert Carlock’s] heads every year, then he would stay and make them. ”
As the first season progressed, Baldwin put everything he had into creating an iconic character. But his contempt for television always bubbled beneath the surface.
“On a TV show, precise acting is not the order of the day,” Baldwin once said. “It’s a sitcom. The idea is to hit certain beats, and we do it smart. But if you make a TV show, you become a pastry chef.”
Baldwin’s situation was summed up by the role’s inspiration, SNL boss Lorne Michaels, who told Roe that Baldwin “guards himself against pleasure.”
“‘I want to say [to him], ‘Alec, you have one of the best TV writers writing this part for you,’ Michaels said. “‘It’s busy in New York, where you chose to live. You work three days a week, you get a lot of money in salary, you get awards. It’s a great time in your life. And if you were able to enjoy it, it would be even better. “
As the “30 Rock” audience got to know Jack Donaghy, a new character was introduced that made Baldwin seem relaxed in comparison.
The veteran of Broadway actress Elaine Stritch played Jack’s cold, hard-boiled mother and struck fear into the hearts of the cast with her suffering-no-foolish approach to filming.
“She gave me this joke to say, but I did not understand,” said Emily Mortimer, who played one of Jack’s girlfriends. “I did not know what it was, but I was a million miles too scared of her to say I do not know what the joke is. So I could not deliver it and she got more and more angry. She turned around against me – she said, ‘Just do it! Can’t you hear the rhythm of it?’ I thought, ‘No, say it again. How should I say that?’ She thought, “Just say it like I say it!”
As difficult as Baldwin could be on the set, he met more than his match with Stritch, which prompted filmmakers to accompany her to the documentary “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me.” “In the movie, you can see them shoot a scene where Stritch improves an extra line,” Roe writes.
“Baldwin’s reaction: ‘Do not tell me the last thing, you. It’s my laugh, you slut.’ She could take it as well as she gave, and burst out laughing – but Baldwin’s patience was running out. “
Towards the end of the show’s run, Baldwin realized what he had with “30 Rock” and tried to keep the show alive, volunteering to take a 20 percent pay cut if it was renewed for seasons 7 and 8. On by that time, however, Fey had been ready to end the show. “30 Rock” was scheduled for a final season of 13 episodes, and Baldwin was finally completely on board.
When “30 Rock” said goodbye and aired its final episode in January 2013, Baldwin finally understood that he had been lucky enough to star in one of the most inspired TV comedies ever. When he reflects on the last scene he filmed with Fey, Baldwin’s love for “30 Rock” is evident.
“When I froze my ass off on a boat floating in a marina in Battery Park City, Jack groped his way forward to tell Liz he loved her,” Baldwin said. “That night was tough. The best job I’ve ever had that I will ever have was over.”
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