In today’s “Behind the Camera” segment, we will discuss the writing and producing career of the industry’s leading female, Tina Fey. We will examine the television shows and films that she has created, as well as the impact that they have left on not only comedy, but also on women in the media industry.
Tina Fey came aboard the writing staff of the sketch show juggernaut Saturday Night Live in 1997, after head writer Adam McKay was impressed by some of the scripts she had submitted. Within 2 years, Fey found herself starring in several sketches including one of the flagship sketch, “Weekend Update”. During this same year, Fey made headlines as she was promoted to head writer, making SNL history as the first female head writer in the show’s 25 season history. Not only was Fey given the opportunity to advance her own career, but she would also be responsible for showing the industry that women could write and produce great comedy, a task which, at that time, they were not given the option to do (during the first season Fey was head writer, the rest of the 20-person writing staff consisted of 19 men). Over the next 6 seasons, Fey proved that she belonged in charge as she lead the writing staff to 3 straight Emmy nominations and 1 win for outstanding comedy writing, an award the show hadn’t been nominated for in 8 years nor won for over a decade. In 2004, Fey would begin work on writing and producing her first film, Mean Girls.
In a decade where unmemorable High School comedy movies flooded the box office, Fey was able to make something in Mean Girls that still stands out 10 years later. Fey won multiple awards for the screen play that she wrote, which critics around the world have cemented as a perfect example of the three act story structure. In fact, Syd Field uses it as an example in his newest edition of his award winning novel, “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting”. In terms of producing, Fey was able to transform a $17 million budget into, at the time, the 2nd highest grossing High school comedy of all time with a worldwide box office total of $129 million. Now, with adequate experience in writing, producing and acting, Fey would use her triple threat of talents to make her crown jewel.
Inspired by her memories and experiences at SNL, Fey would create a fictional show, known as 30 Rock, which explores the behind-the-scenes mishaps of a variety show similar to SNL. During the course of 7 seasons, Fey produced 131 of 138 episodes, and wrote 31. The show was a critical success and ended its run with 103 Emmy nominations, which included 3 wins in a row for best comedy series.
Tina Fey’s body of work is everything that any comedy writer would dream of replicating. In 15 short years, she was able to raise a staple of American television to new heights, make one of the most successful movies in its genre, and still have the talent to create one of the highest critically rated shows of all time. Most importantly, she was a pioneer in the media industry by showing executives that not only could a woman write and produce, but she could also have a chance at being the best in the comedy genre. Fey’s legacy is far from being over as she has just launched a new show (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) on Netflix this last March, and is releasing a new movie this December.