Sorry, Movies. Television's Keeping Tina Fey.

What Women Really Think
Sept. 25 2012 4:37 PM

Sorry, Movies. Television's Keeping Tina Fey.

152689739
Tina Fey at Sunday night's Emmy Awards

Photograph by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.

30 Rock comes to an end this season, and its star/creator, Tina Fey, seemed primed to shoot off into the galaxy of the movies. But word came down today that Fey has signed a four-year deal with Universal Television, and will keep developing shows for NBC. This is very good news, because television needs her even more than the movies do.

Fey isn't exactly Shonda Rhimes, the phenomenally-successful creator of the medical drama Grey's Anatomy, its spinoff Private Practice, and political fixer drama Scandal30 Rock's stayed alive on critical acclaim and awards more than on the ratings from its small but dedicated fanbase. Unlike Rhimes, Fey probably won't be able to make just any show she wants—NBC is trying to climb out of a ratings cellar with decidedly dumber fare than that which Fey's turned out for the last six seasons. But unlike Rhimes, whose shows have been, in many respects, conventional procedural soap opera (which is part of what makes them so successful), Fey may be able to reset the bar, again.

Advertisement

When 30 Rock began, Fey’s Liz Lemon was an anomaly—a woman who, in the words of her boss Jack Donaghy, was "New York third-wave feminist, college-educated, single-and-pretending-to-be-happy-about-it, overscheduled, undersexed, you buy any magazine that says 'healthy body image' on the cover and every two years you take up knitting for ... a week." Liz could be racist, as when she assumed her new actor Tracy Jordan couldn't read; self-interested to the point of faking alcoholism to court a new guy; and painfully awkward. And she exploded the pop culture conceit that it's easy for women to have it all, or to make the changes that are necessary to have it all when they have fully-formed personalities and established lives. Every weird, not-easy-to-like, fascinating woman to arrive on television since, from Hannah Horvath on Girls to Mindy Lahiri on The Mindy Project, owes a debt to Liz Lemon.

Not only am I excited to see the women Fey might create next, but I’m also interested to watch who she mentors and where they go. From Community star Donald Glover, who recently sold an autobiographical show to NBC, to Kay Cannon, who just sold a sitcom about a woman working on an NFL Sunday show to Fox, 30 Rock writers have gone on to do fascinating things. Fey and NBC may have never been able to turn 30 Rock into a massive ratings success, but she's helped train the next generation of writers who may be able to sell her brand of smart comedy to a wider audience.

Of course, I’d love to see Fey on the big screen, particularly in romantic comedies. Given the tendency for female characters to be younger and speak less than their male counterparts, Fey as a mouthy broad and a suitable romantic interest would be a welcome addition to the market. Still, she can do more to make pop culture smarter and weirder behind the scenes than she can looking gorgeous in front of it.

Alyssa Rosenberg writes about culture and television for Slate’s “XX Factor” blog. She also contributes to ThinkProgress and theatlantic.com.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.