Tina Fey Is Between a 'Rock' and a Funny Place at 'SNL'

"The election needs to be over," sighs Tina Fey.

Right now, the woman turned pop-culture marvel for her impression of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is wiped out. She's shooting her Emmy-winning NBC comedy, "30 Rock" (which returns Thursday), 12 hours a day, five days a week. And she's spending Saturdays at "Saturday Night Live" as Palin. She has one day off to be with her husband, composer Jeff Richmond, and daughter, Alice, 3.

"It did sort of catch up with me last Sunday," she says, trying to relax in her dressing room at Silvercup Studios on a recent Friday. "I was pretty tired. I'd done the day shift into the night shift and wanted to hang out with the family on Sunday. Hopefully this will all be over soon. We're taking it week by week, checking in to see if they need me" at "SNL."

And need her they do. Last week, when both Fey and Palin were on, the comedy show lured 15 million viewers, the highest rating since 1994. (Neither NBC nor Fey will say whether she'll appear this weekend.)

How Fey balances what now amounts to two jobs, plus marriage and motherhood, and writing an upcoming humor non-fiction book, is a question none of her co-stars or friends can answer. Friend and fellow "SNL"-er Amy Poehler attributes it to "cloning and time travel."

"30 Rock" writer Robert Carlock says, "It's kind of unprecedented what she's trying to pull off. I guess she doesn't sleep? She has those early calls and works all day. She runs out and gets her kid from school and runs back for the next shot. She does do it all."

Jack McBrayer, who plays perky Kenneth the page, calls her a workhorse. "Yesterday, she had to do several scenes, do a taped episode of Letterman and go back to writing the next episode. She doesn't stop."

In fact, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that Fey lives and breathes "30 Rock." She's of course proud of the series, but the acting Emmy she won this year (one of three) was an important milestone.

"For a long time," she says, "I think it was easy for people to write or say, 'Well, she's not really an actor.' Maybe I'm passing now. So there's that. (Winning) makes it feel like the show is a real TV show. Someday maybe we'll overcome the phrase 'ratings-challenged.' "

Shoring up '30 Rock'

Despite plenty of critical plaudits, "30 Rock" (Thursdays, 9:30 p.m. ET/PT) is not what you'd call a hit. It averaged 6.5 million viewers last season, up 14% from its first year. But it's the least-watched show on NBC's four-comedy Thursday lineup. Still, this season Oprah Winfrey and Jennifer Aniston guest-star, which should attract eyeballs.

Fey says she can't complain about her schedule. "But you can get pretty close." She pauses, and wraps her black coat tightly around herself in the frigid dressing room. "It's just that there's nothing else. You work, and you see your family when you can, and you go to bed. I don't see any movies. It took me a year to read The Year of Magical Thinking."

And "I never get to have wine! I always have to go to bed. I can't really bitch about it, either. We have six weeks off — that's four weeks longer than most people. And it's a job where I can bring my daughter, if I want to, and I get to be with people I love."

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