Emmy-nominated last month for a Best Supporting Actor alongside his "30 Rock" co-star Tracy Morgan, actor Jack McBrayer showed off his real-life humbleness when asked during a recent press call about any desire to branch out beyond his popular character. "Well unfortunately I'm not that great of actor," McBrayer said, "so pretty much I can lose the navy blazer but that's about it. I know what I can do and I know what I like to do and they're pretty much along those same veins so until people are kind of tired of seeing that then I might flex some other muscles. But right now I'm real happy with where I am and what people are asking me to do."
Having just won its third consecutive Best Comedy Emmy, "30 Rock" regularly walks the fine line between reality and what really goes on behind the scenes of a network series. Executive producer Robert Carlock, also on the call with McBrayer, explained that the zany antics of the on-screen writers room, for example, does not exactly mirror the real "30 Rock" writers. "Oh, we try to keep it a little more high-brow... we try to exercise a little more than they do I suppose. I guess that '30 Rock' writers' room is our id. And then, fortunately, not entirely the reality. I think it's in our best interest to stay away from that version in our real lives as much as we can."
One place where real life does cross over into the fictional character of Kenneth is when McBrayer shows up in the actual 30 Rock in New York City. "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.'"
McBrayer added that while the NBC pages are glad to hear what he has to say one group he and his co-stars do not offer tips to is the "30 Rock" writers. "These writers know so much more about how this show works than we do that it would be in our best interest just to trust them. So it's not like we're writing our own stuff or tweaking our own stuff but one thing that is kind of impressive is the writers do know us as individuals [and] as actors and so they do incorporate a lot of our own quirks or talents or whatever into the what the characters do and that's always fun."
Despite his loyalty to the words on each script page, McBrayer does have an extensive background in improvisational comedy due to his time in the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. His work in that arena is something he utilizes in his current job and he explained that improv taught him to "just to be prepared for anything and just to roll with the punches and just working together with a group to create something that's ideally funny at the end of the day. Also in terms of just making it easy to work with this group is anything that the writers give you no matter how ludicrous or just bananas it is you're like 'Yes, I will do this and I will do it with gusto' so just commitment to that."
Carlock's background, on the other hand, includes working alongside "30 Rock" creator and star Tina Fey to the extent that he admits they have a kind of shorthand with each other. "Tina and I have worked together for a long time. We worked together for five years at 'Saturday Night Live' [and] we were writers together there when she started doing 'Weekend Update.'" Carlock added, "Going into this project we knew that we shared a sensibility and we knew that we shared a work ethic which is a big part of getting this thing done every day week to week. And so we've been friends and kind of co-conspirators and co-religionists in the temple of comedy at least for a long, long time."
With a show filled with frequent references to the trendiest and hippest products in American pop culture, "30 Rock" doesn't always use a product in a story in exchange for payment by the product's maker. Case in point, last season the show used the McDonald's McFlurry as a story point and while it's easy to assume it was a product placement agreement between the show and the fast food corporation, Carlock explained, "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 loving the McFlurry [and] bringing together Hispanic women and Republican men." That said, the show is not above the practice in other instances. "We do have the luxury as we've played a few times," Carlock said, "when we do have legitimate product placement [and] 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."
While it would seem everything continues to run smoothly at "30 Rock," Carlock explained one problem he consistently has - servicing everyone in the cast, which is something he calls a blessing and a curse. "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 doing that story with Frank (Judah Friedlander) and Jack (Emmy winner Alec Baldwin) 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."
"30 Rock" also is known for utilizing guest stars like Oprah Winfrey, Steve Martin and Jennifer Aniston in smart, seamless ways. Who are the big names coming this season? McBrayer previewed that "Steve Buscemi and Will Arnett are coming back to join us so we're excited about that." Carlock also offered, "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." He added "we've got this guy Jeff Dunham who's a standup who has a big part in [the third episode] which is the Halloween episode and we've got some stuff coming down the road but nothing has been made official on our end yet so we can't really announce it."
While "30 Rock" has yet to reach #1 status across America, the fans are ever-present and McBrayer has a theory why they continue to tune in week after week. "What we found is just that it is so relatable just as a workplace comedy and anybody who's had a job has had a domineering boss or very needy coworkers or just crazy people around. And so I think in that sense people can just relate to that a bit." Carlock agreed and said, "At the same time, I think we have a tone in the show where I hope viewers are open to being surprised. I hope that's part of the appeal is that sometimes Jack Donaghy is showing up playing Thomas Jefferson in a green sequence for Tracy and at other times we're having sort of more emotional scenes say between Liz and Jack. So I hope that part of the appeal is that you don't know what's going to happen."
"30 Rock" returns for season four tonight on NBC at 9:30/8:30c.