In the future, the biggest television show on the planet might be distributed via a gizmo found in a Happy Meal that plugs into your phone, proving Tina Fey’s belief that good content can come from anywhere.
“Not everything has to sell cars on broadcast TV,” the former “Saturday Night Live” star and author told a packed audience during her closing keynote appearance at Content Marketing World on Thursday evening. The conference, which drew thousands of marketing experts from around the globe to downtown Cleveland, opened Tuesday and closes today.
In a question-and-answer session, Fey talked about everything from her lack of a personal brand to feeling pressure to be funny in real life.
“I always forget I’m supposed to be funny when I go someplace,” she said.
Her earliest creative endeavors were recreating the choreography of Pepsi commercials with friends while growing up in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. Studying theater and playwriting in college, and learning improv comedy with Second City led to her involvement in television (“30 Rock,” “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), movies (“Baby Mama,” “Sisters”), Broadway (“Mean Girls,”) and books (“Bossypants”).
The current proliferation of television platforms helped save her television show “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” created by Fey and starring Ellie Kemper. NBC initially developed the series, but sold it to Netflix. “It’s found its home there,” Fey said.
The sunny-yet-dark premise of “Kimmy Schmidt,” which follows a heroine who escaped from a doomsday cult, wouldn’t have found an audience on a network, Fey said. “The new technology saved us.”
Fey’s production company is currently developing a talk show hosted by actress Busy Phillips (“Cougar Town”), called “Busy Tonight.” Fey is betting that Phillips’ Instagram popularity will translate to television.
Fey’s writing projects begin with thoughts jotted in an old-fashioned composition book or yellow legal pad.
“Writing is the worst,” she said. “Printing is fun, right? Everything before Command Print is a nightmare.”
Writing the satirical sitcom “30 Rock” – created by Fey and starring Fey and Alec Baldwin — was a group process that involves a panel of writers who all contributed ideas. There was very little improvisation on “30 Rock,” which she described as “really densely written.” While “Saturday Night Live” played as if it was all improvised, it really wasn’t, said Fey, who wrote for the show.
Fey has this tip for aspiring writers: Your failures are not going on your permanent record. Write bad first drafts, give yourself deadlines and trust your view of the world. “Make (the writing project) real for yourself and just start,” she said.
Fey embraces the label of feminist, which she defined as being in favor of equal pay for equal work. She recalled the days when women writers on staff were treated like a cappuccino machine – only one was needed, and if you had a bad experience with it, you’d never buy another one.
She strives to write truthfully about women and girls and, as she put it, “throw a rope down” to pull other women into writing and producing opportunities.
“I try to hire women. I try to mentor women,” she said, noting that she wrote for the female performers on “Saturday Night Live.”
Despite her accomplishments, Fey isn’t sure where she’ll make her next mark on the world.
“My time machine is not coming together,” she cracked.