Alec Baldwin let slip yesterday that 30 Rock will be airing another live episode come April 26th, with two versions for both the east coast and west coast. This was attempted by the show in season five and was met with critical acclaim and the highest ratings of the season.

While the idea of a scripted, taped show airing a live episode reeks of gimmickery, a scant 50 years ago, before taping technology existed, almost every show was done live, if for the only reason that producers had no way of memorializing a show.

In the modern age, though, there’s little need for a live show, beyond watching in the hopes that someone flubs a line or farts audibly.

Bad news. It almost never happens. As bad as TV actors can be, they’re by and large pros, so what might seem nerve wracking to the likes of us rubes is little more than a day at the office for them.


The 1997 episode Ambush was performed twice, once for east coast audiences, then once again for, you guessed it, west coast audiences. The live aspect looked different and a little grittier than other taped and mastered episodes, and the difference in appearance was explained via a PBS crew that was following around the doctors of Cook County, filming a documentary.

Everyone was half-hoping, half-expecting disaster, as ER was regarded a show that demanded a hefty amount of technical jargon from their actors, so the constant barking of incubations, CTs, and anaphylactic shock led some to believe that these two airings could be a disaster. But, dammit, they got it right, much to the chagrin of all the Statlers and Waldorfs in the audience.

The Drew Carey Show

The fact that this 90’s sitcom went live should come as no surprise, as half the actors on it cut their teeth on the Brit-import improv show Whose Line Is It, Anyway? What was surprising, and made this different than the more rote “livenings” of many other scripted, taped shows, is that there were various buzzwords and cues that forced the cast to improvise, which guaranteed that the airings were markedly different from one another.

While many attempt the live show, few screw it up, or really leverage the concept to give the episode any novelty. Adding improv elements may have pulled the audience out of the universe of The Drew Carey Show, but who really wants to be in the universe of The Drew Carey Show?


30 Rock

The most recent and prominent instance of a taped, scripted show, 30 Rock did a live episode during its fifth season run, which wasn’t much of a stretch, considering about half the cast were regular performers on SNL, or in the case of some, regular hosts.

The episode ran twice live, once each for each coast, and in addition to the regular 30 Rock cast, featured Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Matt Damon, Rachel Dratch, and Jon Hamm. As mentioned in the introduction, people liked it so much (it got them the highest ratings of the fifth season) that they’re doing it again on April 26th.

Here’s hoping this time around they get Jimmy Fallon in the background, constantly on the verge of laughing, if only to ratchet up the suspense.

The West Wing

Of course The West Wing did a live show. This show took itself so seriously that it would have collapsed in shame had it not lived up to the benchmarks set by ER. Unfortunately, by the time this season seven episode came around, all but the most die hard fans had given up on the show, raising the question, “If a show does a live episode (in the forest) and no one is around to watch it, does anyone really give a shit?”

I’m comfortable answering that with a “no.”

This episode didn’t feature a single original cast member, which perhaps also raises the question, “Was this even really a West Wing episode?”

You can go ahead and answer that one on your own.

Will and Grace

You know what’s marginally better than Will and Grace? Just about everything. However, millions tuned in twice to the delightful parade of gay stereotypes in order to see if Jack would be even MORE Jack when an editor and multiple takes were removed from the equation.

The eighth season premiere went live with the oh-so-clever name “Alive and Schticking,” and even featured live TV stalwart Alec Baldwin as a guest star. Unlike most entries on this list, this episode contained a fair number of flubs and muffled laughter, meaning that Will and Grace actors and producers are wildly unprofessional and must be stopped.

Roc (The Entire Second Season)

Most people won’t remember this show from FOX that ran from 1991-1994. It starred Charles S. Dutton as a Baltimore garbage man way before The Wire made Baltimore interesting.

However, while the setting of the show may not have been the most interesting, the show’s cast featured accomplished stage actors who wanted to flex their muscle a little. As such, they got FOX’s blessing to air every episode of the second season live. While one-off episodes of some shows had been done live, no show had done an entire season of live episodes since the 1950’s, back when technology mandated the live performance.

Sadly, following this experiment, which garnered some attention, but not much in the way of acclaim, the show took on a more dramatic and important tone, which FOX audiences were in no mood for. Consequently, the show began a downward slide.

But at least now you can say you know something interesting about Roc. Unless you find Charles S. Dutton interesting. In which case you can say you know two interesting things about the show Roc. Tell everyone who will listen.