You have to admit that the live TV gimmick is still a fun event in the abstract, if most people merely tuning in expecting to see someone make a mistake or instigate uncontrollable giggles. The early days of TV in the 1950s had no choice but to be live most of the time, and proof of things going wrong were fortunately preserved on kinescopes where a door jamming happened more often than a blown line. But since those days, comedic performers have become near well-oiled machines when it comes to reducing blown lines, laughing out loud, or knocking props over.
Nowhere can you say that than the cast of last week's live episode of "30 Rock," where it was perhaps mastered with significant stage experience. Tina Fey already has live experience on "Saturday Night Live," Alec Baldwin has significant Broadway stage experience, and Jane Krakowski the same. All the rest (as they say) generally know how to perform well without nary a tongue trip.
Once in a while, though, you have one or two performers who simply can't do comedy without obviously having to withhold a major guffaw. As brilliant a performer as Jimmy Fallon is, his cameo in the "30 Rock" live episode was almost assured to have him snicker at one of his lines. While I didn't see the east coast feed of the live episode, Fallon's penchant for breaking up during hilarious lines on his "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" helped bring a little more danger.
Other than that, you could almost swear this "30 Rock" was taped in advance due to a rehearsal that ultimately assimilated every line and camera cue perfectly. The only thing you could hope for is that the cast varied some of the gags between the east coast and west coast feed, making the alternate time zone feed worth watching later online. As the show did in their last live episode two years ago, they stuck in different commercial parodies, depending on your time zone.
If their live episode was a mixed bag this time around, how will it affect other one-shot attempts at sitcoms going live? When it comes to comedies, the days of expecting the unexpected may be over now that comedians know how to perform well and be effectively funny without forcing mistakes to be that way. It only leaves one logical step for network shows doing a live take: Go with the dramas.
That gimmick of going live has been around on sitcoms since the 1980s, though not always many with dramas. "ER" did a famous live episode once in 1997, and it was significantly more compelling due to very noticeable mistakes throughout the broadcast on both coasts. It's one thing you can count on with actors who do drama: Things are more apt to go wrong because the actors are afraid they will.
So let's see "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" go live or even an episode of "Mad Men" on AMC for one special night. The chances of a 1960s-era lamp falling over on "Mad Men" or someone making a rude gesture in the background of a live outdoor NYC shot on "SVU" are the stuff that makes live, fictitious TV worth watching and even worth considering.