Q&A: Robert Carlock & Jack McBrayer Of '30 Rock' On Page Strikes, Halloween Episode, Guest Stars, More
Starpulse had a chance to participate in a 30 Rock press conference with executive producer/writer Robert Carlock and star Jack McBrayer. We have some spoilery information on the first few episodes, be warned! For example, the second episode falls under the Entertainment Industry Foundation's I Participate Week and features a volunteerism storyline for Kenneth. Thanks to a late season start, the third episode has a Halloween theme (more details further down)!
On Being A Fictional NBC Page:
Jack McBrayer: Well I do get a little special attention every time I'm in the real Rockefeller Center. In fact I was just over there last week and one of the real pages was showing me the page handbook which now has a special section in each chapter that says, "Tips from Kenneth."
Robert Carlock: Thanks for writing that by the way.
Jack McBrayer: I know, I didn't think they'd notice it's handwritten. But they do just give a little shout-out there. Although I did hear that a couple of the pages have kind of set their tour groups straight by going it's not really like that at all. We are real people. We are not a cartoon.
I know, so I've single handedly brought that program down.
Starpulse: With the economy nudging companies to hire interns as the new entry level positions do you think Kenneth is becoming a hero of this rising younger work category?
Jack McBrayer: Well the thing about posing yourself as a hero is one day that's going to bite you in the ass. Yeah, I mean like my only frame of reference for the role that I'm playing and the people that I deal with are the real life pages over at Rockefeller Center. And so far it seems to be okay and they seem happy with the way they're being depicted and how they're being treated by real people.
Page Strike!! Reality or just fiction?
Jack McBrayer: Not on any sort of official level. Every now and then I get a little bee in my bonnet when I smell a perceived injustice and I will tell the powers that be until they stick a pacifier in my mouth and I go to sleep.
Well is there any fear that in real life if this ever happens the pages over at Rockefeller would come to you?
Jack McBrayer: Well they'll be sorely disappointed. Try to explain to them I am an actor and not a good one at that.
Image © NBC Universal, Inc
Robert Carlock: I mean, that is actually the episode where Jack and Liz go down to Stone Mountain and that's where, yeah, Frank and Toofer realize that the hot girls that they can't seem to meet on Halloween which is sort of a magical night for drunk women in strange costumes, have all been going to these fabulous parties that Jenna has access to and they're trying to use Jenna to get in there and she's trying to use them right back for her own ends which is always fun when those pairs are scheming off each other. And then Tracy has a very funny story where two sort of - in our world made-up celebrities have died and Tracy in the sort of celebrity rule of threes thinks he's going to be the third and it's the scariest Halloween ever where he's trying to get another celebrity to die before him so he can live.
The Real Writers Room:
Robert Carlock: You can get punchy though, you need to fill the time. You spend, you know, so many hours in a room literally with these 11 other people and, you know, some people going in and out and they have different tasks and there's always production going on. But, there - you know, what is - occasionally you do devolve into something. For some reason we had these two like paddle pads that you put on your hands for boxing, I don't know why they were even in the room. And then we - for some reason we had these marbles that were Star Wars marbles, again, I try to keep the room pretty bare just to limit distractions because these people can be very child-like and easily distracted. But somehow they invented a game where you would wear this paddle on your hand and then throw the marble to someone who was also wearing the paddle. And I had to put an end to that I think.
Jack McBrayer: Oh no.
Robert Carlock (left) and Jack McBrayer (right)
Robert Carlock: I think it's called paddly-marbly so there's a lot of...There's a lot of creativity in the writer's room as you can tell.
Jack McBrayer: A lot of law suits now too.
Robert Carlock: Yeah. So stuff like that does boil up sometimes but hopefully usually there's just too much work to do for people to actually be enjoying themselves.
On Product Placement:
Starpulse: 'The Dana Carvey Show' was notorious for the way integrating product placement into the show and '30 Rock' has taken flack for the way it's sort of done the same thing.
Robert Carlock: Right.
Starpulse: So what sort of considerations do you and the other writers and producers make when writing jokes about sponsors?
Robert Carlock: Yeah, it's funny, yeah, I was on the Dana Carvey Show as you probably know.
Robert Carlock: You know, we do - it's funny because the show - a lot of our jokes are - we want to write jokes a lot of times about products and - because our tone and our characters sort of - we try to make them live in the - in the sort of pop culture so much. And, you know, to that end like a lot of times our jokes and references are just things that we want to do and are not product placement...we had sort of a thing with McDonalds last year where people just assumed it was product placement and I guess why wouldn't you in this climate but it was actually just a creative choice about two characters finding common ground...
Jack McBrayer: Loving the...
Robert Carlock: ...loving the McFlurry. Bringing together Hispanic women and Republican men since forever... So, you know, we do have the luxury as we've played a few times of when we do have legitimate product placement of really calling it out in hopes of letting the audience in on the joke and in on the fact that we're doing this to try to help the bottom line and keep the show going. So we do - when we are doing it - really doing it we are - we try to be very careful because it can, you know, and we've drawn - we have drawn flack and some praise for it at the same time. You know, it can come off in the wrong way and so we try to play with that luxury of being in this world and talking about this world and being able to call out the joke.
Starpulse: Have there been any jokes about products that the network has made you guys cut?
Robert Carlock: I don't think so. I mean one of the amazing things is how great they've been about the fact that this is a show about a GE NBC show.
Jack McBrayer: That we are owned by Shineheart Universal...
Robert Carlock: The Shineheart Wig Company. I honestly can't think of one. They've been very good about it.
Jack McBrayer: Yeah.
The Liz Arc
Robert Carlock: Yeah, you know, we did sort of a lot of as you said we touch on a lot of personal stuff for people last year and we're kind of starting off the season getting back into the office stuff and continuing where she left off last year with this sort of little potential brush with fame with this sketch that she had that turns into a book and maybe she tries to turn into - with Jack's help - into a TV show with this deal breakers thing. And kind of asking the questions of, yeah, always asking the question with Liz of what is next for her and can she take that next step and both with personal life and with work. And so the beginning of the season concentrating on work with that and then hopefully getting back into her quest for elusive happiness in general.
Robert Carlock: Yeah, you know, one of the great things about this show and the blessing and the curse is that we have so many characters and so many different interactions between characters that work so well. And one of the fun things last year was like doing that story with Frank and Jack about their moms and their missing dads and their sort of shared them finding common ground was a really fun thing and letting a Bigfoot bring them closer together. And so, yeah, absolutely because we love those guys and think they're a really fun foil. And they're always a fun foil against Jenna which we use a lot with the two of them Jenna against those guys kind of squaring off a lot of times. There's some fun stuff in the Halloween episode which is the third one where they butt heads a bit over trying to sneak into gay Halloween which all the hot girls are hanging out so.
61st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards © Albert L. Ortega / PR Photos
Jack McBrayer: Episodes 401 and 402 Steve Buscemi and Will Arnett are coming back to join us...
Robert Carlock: Yeah, it'll be a lot of fun. Among the fun things about the show is we've got this sort of people in our world like Will and Steve and like Chris Parnell and Elaine Stritch who are part of our recurring characters on our show and we think of as guest stars - don't tell them that or it might affect their self image. But who do we have coming up? Oh we've got this guy Jeff Dunham who's a standup who has a big - has a big part in 403 that - sorry the Halloween episode which is our third episode. And we've got some stuff coming down the road but nothing that we can - has been made official on our end yet so we can't really announce it.
Jack McBrayer: Well, I mean, we are allowed to say that Betty White will be joining us...I think she's playing herself.
Robert Carlock: She's playing herself...
What happens if Comcast really does buy NBC in real life? What will Jack do?
Robert Carlock: Yeah, I mean, hopefully that'll, you know, if that were to happen or - it would provide us a fun arc for him, him having to keep his position in the new regime. I don't know where Shineheart Wigs fits into the new organizational chart.
Jack McBrayer: Shineheart Wigs fits anywhere.
Robert Carlock: But we do try to use the real world as - in as much as we like so we'll see. But, yeah, that'll be interesting.
"30 Rock" season four premieres tonight at 9:30 pm EST.
Interview by Sarah Lafferty
Starpulse contributing writer
Follow Sarah on twitter at starbuckscout.
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