Emmys Q&A: Beth McCarthy-Miller on directing the two-part '30 Rock' series finale
Beth McCarthy-Miller has been a part of the "30 Rock" family almost since inception. She’s directed some of the show’s finest episodes, including both live ones and “TGS Hates Women,” so it was natural for co-showrunners Tina Fey and Robert Carlock to place her at the helm for their show’s two-part finale. “Hogcock!” and “Last Lunch” aired January 31 one right after the other, requiring McCarthy-Miller to meld two episodes into a cohesive whole and put a button on the series' seven-year run. HitFix spoke with her about this process as Emmy voters are casting ballots -- McCarthy-Miller has been nominated five times for her work on “30 Rock,” but never won.
How did you go about unifying both parts of the finale, especially considering four different writers had a hand in the product?
First of all, I was blown away and so honored to be asked. It’s like being asked to do the finale of “Cheers” or “Newhart,” one of those real classic sitcoms. I knew this one was gonna be crazy, because how do you end a show and make all the fans happy, all the critics happy, and satisfy yourself in the process? So I was ready for `it. I got to cheat a little, just because I was able to have a shorthand with most of the creative folks there. I’m happy to have four writers as long as the final product is what it ended up being. It wasn’t like there were so many voices involved that it was hard to get through it. That’s the beauty of having a very clear voice on the show: Usually there aren’t too many opposing sides. I had to make sure there was a cohesiveness to them, but that was the tricky thing. They were being aired together, but needed to be able to be aired separately and make sense.
What was different about these two episodes?
Usually when a director comes in they get a single half hour episode and they have to, along with making it their own, make sure that it makes sense within the confines of the show. The great thing about doing both of those half hours is that I was really able to do the whole story arc [of the show], and it was a little meatier. One of my favorite things about it was that one of the first episodes I directed was “The Rural Juror,” and it was heartwarming that the show ended with the song from “The Rural Juror.”
Were there any specific challenges that arose directing those final two episodes?
I think that the show was taxed based on the fact that it was a shortened season, so everything was having to be done quicker and more efficiently than a full length season. Also, for better or worse, there was a lot of emotion on and off camera for that final episode. It was important to be aware of the emotions each person on and off camera were going through after being part of something so special for seven years. But I think the biggest thing was the responsibility to try and give Tina the finale that she wanted and make sure that her vision was realized.
You’ve been nominated five times for an Emmy, and haven’t won. Do you think Emmy voters have an accurate sense of what directors do on television shows?
With everything, there are people who do get it, and people who don’t. You just hope there are enough people out there who do get it. I know some people were a little upset when I didn’t win for “Live Episode.” The best job a director can do is make people not even realize how big of a job it is. I vote on the Emmys; when I watch an episode of something, I know how challenging or interesting [it is]. When you’re deciding between five episodes of “The Sopranos” or whatever show, you really think about if there was something shot especially well that added to the content of the show. Hopefully you think other people think that way too.
What would an Emmy win mean for you?
Boy, it would always be a treat and an honor to win such a prestigious award. But I am kind of starting to enjoy my friends and family calling me the Susan Lucci of the Primetime Emmys. But really, I feel like I already won a prize being part of that show for seven seasons. And the fact that Tina trusted me with the finale makes me feel like I already won a prize.
What specific takeaway, directing-wise, will you take from your experience on "30 Rock?"
I think there is a huge preciseness to the comedy in the scripts of "30 Rock" and it was a good exercise as a director to make sure that those jokes played as precisely as they were on paper. It was also a unique experience to watch the dance of making sure the show was funny enough, but also have story, heart and connectivity. There was a fine line of what was funny and believable. There also is a huge perk to watch these great actors at their craft and learn how to get the most out of each moment they have.
Are you going to vote for yourself?
Hells yeah I’m gonna vote for myself! I never submitted myself for anything, but this year it was like, “All right fine!”