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 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?