In the first scene of 30 Rock, NBC sketch-comedy producer Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) buys a hot-dog vendor’s entire stock, to spite a jerk who tries to cut in line. She sashays through Manhattan, handing out franks to passersby while a That Girl—like tune plays. A homeless man chucks one at the back of Liz’s head.
Fey, 36, has a few things in common with Mary Tyler Moore and Marlo Thomas, whose liberated-gal-in-the-city sitcoms the scene spoofs. It’s not just that she’s a funny, good-looking brunet or that 30 Rock may be on the way to becoming a TV classic. Fey is also a rising player in what has been a man’s game. In the ’90s, she became the first female head writer for Saturday Night Live, revitalizing the Weekend Update segment by delivering demurely cutting barbs, then wrote the 2004 movie Mean Girls, a sharply observed comedy about the teen pecking order.
With 30 Rock, which she also writes and produces, Fey combines an insider’s send-up of TV with subtle, self-effacing feminism, as Liz wrangles difficult stars and leads a mostly male writers’ room. Liz is funny but flawed, successful but insecure, political but not infallible—a woman we see a lot in our offices but too little in our pop culture. The show has won over critics, and though it hasn’t yet become a monster hit, NBC was impressed enough to pick it up for next season. Looks like she’s gonna make it after all.