New TV series Great News takes on hot issues

Great News, starring (above from left) Briga Heelan, Adam Campbell, John Michael Higgins and Andrea Martin, is co-produced by comedienne Tina Fey (left).
Great News, starring (from left) Briga Heelan, Adam Campbell, John Michael Higgins and Andrea Martin, is co-produced by comedienne Tina Fey.PHOTO: SONY PICTURES
Great News, starring (above from left) Briga Heelan, Adam Campbell, John Michael Higgins and Andrea Martin, is co-produced by comedienne Tina Fey (left).
Great News, starring Briga Heelan, Adam Campbell, John Michael Higgins and Andrea Martin, is co-produced by comedienne Tina Fey (above).PHOTO: SONY PICTURES

The comedy series' co-producer Tina Fey says she does not rule out using the show to highlight the current political climate in the United States in later seasons

Comedienne Tina Fey will forever be associated with the neurotic Liz Lemon, the Emmy-winning character she played on the satirical sitcom she created, 30 Rock (2006 to 2013), about the goings-on at a sketch-comedy show.

And she has returned to the same for her new television series, Great News - another workplace comedy centred on a woman working in the TV industry.

Fey and regular collaborators Tracey Wigfield and Robert Carlock - who both worked with her on 30 Rock - acknowledge that their new show has some similarity to the previous hit. It revolves around a journalist, Katie (Briga Heelan), whose work life is thrown in turmoil when her overbearing mother Carol (Andrea Martin) is hired as an intern at the news station where she works.

Great News debuts today at 8.30pm on Sony Channel (Singtel TV Channel 316 and StarHub TV Channel 510).

But they tell The Straits Times and other press that they made sure not to have the main character become a caricature of Liz Lemon.

Speaking at a press event in Los Angeles earlier this year, Wigfield - who created the show and co-produces it with Fey and Carlock - points out the major differences from 30 Rock, the surreal cult series that thrice won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series (2007 to 2009).

"I think where this show and 30 Rock share some DNA is it's a funny show with a lot of fast-paced jokes per page. But the show is very different. At its core, it's about a mother and a daughter," says Wigfield, 34, who was inspired by her relationship with her loving, but interfering, mother.

There were a couple of times - and Tina was very much on it - (where we talked) about, 'Let's make sure Katie isn't, like, eating tuna out of a can or tucking her shirt into her underwear.'

TRACEY WIGFIELD, who created Great News and co-produced it with Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, on the show being different from comedy series 30 Rock

"There were a couple of times - and Tina was very much on it - (where we talked) about, 'Let's make sure Katie isn't, like, eating tuna out of a can or tucking her shirt into her underwear' or that kind of thing. You know, making sure Katie is a very different character (from 30 Rock's Liz)."

Another difference, Fey jokes, is that "Katie likes to have sex", unlike the comically uptight Liz, a role for which she won an Emmy and two Golden Globes.

Wigfield says it was easy to create the other protagonist, Katie's mother, Carol, because her mum has periodically intruded into her work space.

"Tina and Robert - not that they wanted to - know my mother very well because my mother would constantly come to work when I was writing on 30 Rock.

"My mom is very much the character - the good thing about her is that she talks to everyone the same, whether it is the lady at the grocery store or (30 Rock star) Alec Baldwin. And she is very honest and has a happiness about her and is very motherly."

Fey, 47, is asked if the show will use its newsroom-setting to comment on the "fake news" controversy that erupted after the American presidential election campaign last year.

The timing of when the first season's episodes were shot made this impossible, she says, but adds that she does not rule out tackling the subject in later seasons.

"You can sort of take ideas from the headlines, but you can't do a joke that will feel really old by the time the show airs," she says.

In subsequent seasons, Great News would "be closer" to the headlines.

And indeed, the show's second season, which debuted in the United States in September, has taken on hot topics such as sexual harassment in the workplace.

But Fey says comedy series such as this "can never quite keep up with Saturday Night Live in that way", referring to the long-running comedy-sketch show (1975 to present) where she made her name with as a writer and actress.

"It's a different game. I think you take bigger ideas more than day-to-day moments."

Wigfield - who won an Emmy for her writing on 30 Rock and who, like Fey, will make guest appearances on Great News - is also keen for the show to delve into "the state of news and where news is going", adding that in the current political climate, working at a cable news station in the US might be "the most interesting job in the world".

Carlock, who collaborated with Fey to create another female-centric sitcom, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2015 to present), promises that Great News will use its journalistic setting to explore meaningful issues, even if they are not hot off the press.

"Even if we're not trying to deal with the news as the news, there are stakes to it," says the 44-year-old.

"What we were able to do with this is to have things that matter. Just from a story standpoint, it feels more propulsive."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2017, with the headline 'Great News takes on hot issues'. Print Edition | Subscribe