Fey's new sitcom to debut on Netflix

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If 30 Rock, their screwball sitcom about a TV show's backstage antics, had lasted longer, say Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, they might have pursued a plot about fatuous executive Jack Donaghy and his further degradation of the traditional broadcast TV model.

Fey said: "He was going to have some kind of NBC app so you can see a show in your food."

Carlock added: "The shows were going to appear in your soup."

What was once comic fodder for Fey and Carlock, Emmy winners who have worked together since Saturday Night Live, has come true for them, more or less.

When their new comedy series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, about the survivor of a cult member (Ellie Kemper) rebuilding her life in New York, is released on March 6, it will not debut on NBC, the network for which it was created and where Fey has been a signature talent, but on streaming video service Netflix.

One could interpret this turn of events as an ominous sign for the future of cutting-edge comedies on broadcast networks.

But Fey and Carlock see their arrival at Netflix as a chance to develop their voice and break the boundaries they faced on 30 Rock. "It will take time to find a new rhythm, but now you can say and do whatever you want," Fey said. "I guess what we're saying is, we're going to humiliate strippers."

When 30 Rock ended its seven-season run in 2013, NBC encouraged them to develop a series for Kemper, who played sweetly naive characters on The Office and in Bridesmaids.

Inspired by Kemper, who Fey said had "sunniness but also strength", they settled on casting her as a woman who has spent 15 years living underground and was told that Armageddon had occurred. She then re-emerges into a world whose cynicism she does not share.

Fey said they liked the idea of "a person who doesn't know a lot of things but then also knows a lot of weird things that she can impart to people". Carlock added: "You believe her when she takes charge, even if she doesn't quite know what she's doing."

The series, also starring 30 Rock's Jane Krakowski, was snapped up by NBC in 2013. But it was not announced on NBC's fall schedule last year or this year's spring schedule, even as production continued.

Behind the scenes, Fey and Carlock were talking to NBC entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt, watching as comedies including Parks And Recreation were ending and new ones such as Bad Judge and A To Z were failing.

They realised that NBC would soon have no dedicated comedy block and no like-minded shows to support Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and started discussing whether another network could show it.

Fey said: "I do want to dispel the notion that it was cancelled." If she and Carlock wished, NBC "would have aired it and it would have done a 0.6", she said, citing a low ratings figure. "They wouldn't have just not aired it."

In e-mailed replies, Greenblatt said if the two "had not wanted to go the Netflix route, we would have done everything we could to make it a hit on NBC".

He wrote: "Nothing would have made us happier than to have Tina's next show after 30 Rock. But I also would rather see it go to Netflix than put her in a position to not succeed due to our limitations at the moment."

Because the show is produced by Universal Television, a corporate sibling of NBC, the network had an incentive to keep the show alive and quickly found a willing partner in Netflix.

"It's incredibly funny, in the same kind of rhythm of 30 Rock, but also totally original," said Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos.

Netflix announced last November that it was acquiring the series and ordering a second season.

"I wanted the creative talent to know that we are committed to the show," Sarandos said. "It's not a wild bet that Fey's return to television is going to be a success."

 
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