'30 Rock' with Tina Fey rocks into its fourth season

Tina Fey as Liz Lemon in "30 Rock" Tina Fey as Liz Lemon in "30 Rock" on NBC. Photo Credit: NBC

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As with many other great television comedies, art often reflects life on "30 Rock." It just does so through a fun-house mirror.

And the fourth season, which premieres Thursday on NBC, is no exception, says writer and executive producer Robert Carlock.

"At the beginning of the season, Jack's [Alec Baldwin] work concerns have taken over again, and he's dealing with the economy of both TV and our fictional version of the microwave business and government interference in the free market," explains Carlock, whom series creator Tina Fey called "the engine that keeps the show going" during her Emmy acceptance speech last month.

"He's chafing under a potential government oversight committee on microwaves and small appliances, like the car czar thing, because Jack is a free-market purist. When he accepts a bonus check that is accidentally delivered to Kenneth [Jack McBrayer], he inadvertently precipitates a strike by the pages."

Jack also begins to meddle in Liz's (Fey) comedy series, pressuring her to make the show more appealing to "real Americans," not just intellectuals (translation: Dumb it down), he adds.

"He and Liz make a trip down to Stone Mountain, Ga., Kenneth's hometown, to find a new comic voice, and they run afoul of a Southern ventriloquist played by Jeff Dunham," Carlock says. "Jack thinks he's the funniest thing he's ever seen and accuses Liz of Yankee snobbery. It all culminates in the murder of a ventriloquist doll. Jack and Liz can't go to small-town America and not get run out on a rail."

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Dunces with wolves

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One of the show's funniest running gags continues this season as "TGS" cast member Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) continues her streak of some of the most ill-fated movie projects imaginable - in this case, a werewolf movie. In Iceland.

"She's sure this werewolf movie is going to be the one [that makes her a movie star], because of the popularity of things like 'True Blood' and 'Twilight,' " Krakowski says of her character. "Unfortunately, it has been scheduled during the wrong time, during the 'white nights,' and since werewolves only come out at night, they only can shoot it one minute at a time, because there is only one minute of darkness a day. It's the worst ill-fated project ever, but there's a genius flashback where you see it being filmed.

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Leave it to Jane

Krakowski, a Tony-winning Broadway baby who recently earned her first Emmy nod for her work in "30 Rock," has emerged as one of the show's most valuable go-to players, walking fearlessly right up to the edge of violating good taste with Jenna's clueless political incorrectness.

"One of the great things about Jane is that she inhabits that self-absorption and vanity [of Jenna], but does it with such a light comic touch," Carlock says. "We also have a story where, in her effort to appeal to the heartland of America, she puts on a cowboy hat and records a country song, in that very cynical way that some people maybe do in an effort to be a demagogue. Jane can do almost anything, so we can have her sing and she's hilarious or run around Iceland and she's hilarious.

"One of the things we're looking forward to is having Jenna in an arranged Hollywood relationship cooked up by two agents. But Jenna discovers it isn't fulfilling for her, and she has an emotional realization that she wants more, which I think is a cool turn for that character after three years of thinking that all she wants is to have her picture in the paper and have her hair look good."

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Bring it on, Krakowski says happily.

"I love playing Jenna, and I think because she and Tracy's [Morgan, as loose-cannon comic Tracy Jordan] characters are so self-absorbed and unaware of the world around them that it gives them so much freedom to be wrong, and that is something that is so fun to get to play," the actress says. "In a sense, I think we all forgive her for these absolutely ridiculous things she says. She is quite racist. She doesn't understand what is happening in the world. She thinks things that are bad are good. She hears compliments when they are insults. It gives you so much freedom to get to play the most wrong side of the choice, which is hilarious and fun.

Krakowski says her friends and family had a great time at last month's Emmy Awards. The show had its third consecutive win as best comedy series, but being a nominee in the best supporting actress category only ratcheted up Krakowski's nerves.

"I really was quite terrified of winning if I would have to get up there and give a speech," she admits. "I think we all have a bit of that: We are actors who mostly are paid to say lines. I'm used to saying other people's words, not my own, and projecting characters, so the notion of being myself, or a version of myself, and having to give a speech is just terrifying to me."

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