Starring: Tina Fey.
Starring: John Lithgow.
Already this fall, NBC's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" has peered behind the scenes at a "Saturday Night Live"-like sketch comedy show, but it's done so as a drama. "30 Rock" (8 p.m. Wednesday) is the half-hour comedy take on roughly the same subject. Tonally, it's a completely different show.
Where "Studio 60" takes a scathing and indignant tone toward television, "30 Rock" offers a more sarcastic, less hackles-raised critique. It's also funnier and goofier.
Tina Fey created and stars in "30 Rock" as Liz Lemon, head writer for "The Girlie Show." She's best friends with star Jenna (Jane Krakowski) and she's frequently annoyed by an NBC page (Jack McBrayer), a Clay Aiken look/sound-alike.
But she doesn't know the nightmare to come until she meets her new boss, Jack Donaghy (perfectly pompous Alec Baldwin), the new vice president of East Coast Television and Microwave Programming for NBC Universal-GE-Kmart.
"We own Kmart now?" asks "Girlie Show" producer Pete (Scott Adsit).
"No, so why do you dress like we do?" Jack replies, staring squarely at Liz.
To date, Jack's greatest achievement is creation of GE's Trivection Oven (a real GE product). Now he's preparing to conquer the world of TV after renovating his new office, which was pretty swanky to begin with.
"Sometimes you have to change things that are perfectly good just to make them your own," Jack says, bringing to mind myriad instances of new network presidents who canceled shows they were not involved in putting on the air ("Remember WENN" on AMC, "Dead Like Me" on Showtime, etc.).
Jack's new idea is to add Martin Lawrence-like actor Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) to "The Girlie Show" to boost its male viewership. Jordan has a history of crackpot antics, including a sprint down a California freeway in his underwear, screaming "I am a Jedi" at passing motorists.
Liz meets with Tracy in hopes of talking him out of the gig, but luckily for viewers, he ends up with the job. "30 Rock" is amusing enough before Morgan makes his entrance, but it's much funnier after his arrival. An unpredictable loose cannon, Tracy Jordan is prone to spouting crazy conspiracy theories and is bound to make Liz's life miserable. Hopefully that will make for more fresh, funny episodes in the weeks to come.
'Twenty Good Years'
Viewers who like their comedy broad, loud and silly might take a liking to this "Odd Couple"-like sitcom. Otherwise, change the channel after "30 Rock."
John Lithgow repeats his "3rd Rock from the Sun" performance in "Twenty Good Years" (8:30 p.m. Wednesday), only this time he's an arrogant, boorish human instead of an alien. But he still shouts his dialogue in a vain attempt to make the line readings funnier.
Lithgow stars as John Mason, a self-absorbed doctor who realizes he and more tentative friend Jeffrey (Jeffrey Tambor, "Arrested Development") probably only have 20 good years left in their lives. He declares that they must make the best of them.
"The day you were born was the greatest day of my life," John tells his daughter (Heather Burns), beginning a crescendo that ends in shouting. "But that was ONE DAY!"
By the end of the premiere episode, Lithgow wears nothing but a Speedo and Jeffrey dumps his controlling girlfriend (guest star Judith Light, a welcome presence ??? it might be fun to see her blow back at Lithgow's bluster if her character ever returns).
It's a relief to see NBC get beyond its twentysomething sitcom myopia with this willingness to put on a show with AARP-age stars, but it's hard to see how the network can get 10 good episodes out of a concept as uninspired as "Twenty Good Years."
TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Ask TV questions at www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.