NEW YORK (AP) — In a break from its usual filmed style, NBC's "30 Rock" went live Thursday night with an episode that was full of fun and, yes, very lively.
As promised, the setup for the episode had boss Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) delivering the bad news that, as a cost-cutting measure, "TGS," the fictitious show-within-a-show produced by Liz Lemon (series star Tina Fey), would henceforth be filmed, not broadcast live.
"From now on," he said, "you write and shoot the season in two weeks, like 'Wheel of Fortune' and Fox News."
Liz erupted in protest.
"'TGS' has to be live or it will lose all its excitement and spontaneity," she declared. "That's the beauty of live TV: Anything can happen!"
And at that moment, Kenneth the NBC Page (Jack McBrayer) entered Donaghy's office with Paul McCartney in tow, telling him, "Here's a bathroom you can use." McCartney disappeared into Donaghy's executive loo. Anything indeed.
Liz was easily won over once she realized that filming "TGS" would be quicker and easier.
But Kenneth argued passionately for the excitement that live TV represents, reminding his colleagues of historic live programs from NBC's rich past.
This paved the way for several wacky flashbacks, including the 1950s live sitcom "The Lovebirds," a spoof of "The Honeymooners."
In the black-and-white sequence in a bare-bones Brooklyn apartment, Baldwin assumed the Jackie Gleason role, with Fey as the long-suffering wife originally portrayed by Audrey Meadows.
"You're a real cut-up," sneered Baldwin in a sendup of Gleason's ranting Ralph Kramden. "In fact, one of these days I'm gonna cut you up in pieces and feed you to the neighbor's dogs."
"It'd be the first time you've taken me out for dinner in years," replied the poker-faced Fey.
In another flashback, Baldwin played a pickled parody of Dean Martin from his 1960s variety series.
And "30 Rock" star Tracy Morgan appeared in a flashback from a pioneering 1950s sitcom that featured African-Americans — a spoof of "Amos 'n' Andy" with a burnt-cork-faced Jon Hamm as his black sidekick.
Among other surprise guests were Amy Poehler, Jimmy Fallon and Fred Armisen.
Thursday's episode was the second such venture for "30 Rock," which aired live the first time in October 2010. As it did then, this half-hour was broadcast from NBC's Studio 8H — otherwise the home of "Saturday Night Live" — in front of a live studio audience.
The initial performance — telecast at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time — went smoothly, with no noticeable technical glitches and one minor flubbed line. The show was scheduled to be repeated, live, three hours later for viewers in the western U.S.
And, perhaps needless to say, by the end of the episode, Jack Donaghy was won over to the importance of live TV.
"'TGS' is meant to be live," he concluded. "To make it more profitable, we'll just need to do more sponsored product placements. Or I'll just pay you all less."
Whereupon Paul McCartney reappeared on stage, looking dazed.
"I slipped and hit my head in the bathroom," he said. "Who am I?"
"You're my boyfriend!" Liz Lemon told him as she gleefully led him away.
NBC is controlled by Comcast Corp.
Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier