In Depth

‘Rock’ Treats Guests Well

Comedy’s Format Lends Itself to Stunt Casting

One might think after reading the guest actor and actress nominations for this year’s Primetime Emmys that it’s the “30 Rock” award. Seven of the 11 nominees were recognized for their guest turns on the NBC sitcom, which won the comedy series Emmy last year. The five men and six women nominated for these Emmys all are celebrated actors.

The guest actress nominees for comedy are Polly Bergen and Kathryn Joosten (a former winner in this role) from “Desperate Housewives”; Sarah Silverman for “Monk”; and Carrie Fisher, Edie Falco and Elaine Stritch for “30 Rock.”

In 2007, Ms. Stritch—a Tony Award winner—took home the Emmy in the category for her performance as Alec Baldwin’s overbearing, outrageous mother. When the irascible Ms. Stritch won last year, she said, “I can’t get over that I still feel the way I do, it’s unbelievable. I’m a recovering alcoholic, a riddled diabetic and I’ve got laryngitis … but I just won an Emmy.”

On the men’s side, “30 Rock”-ers include Will Arnett, Steve Buscemi, Tim Conway and Rip Torn. Rounding out the group is Shelley Berman for “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Last year’s winner, Stanley Tucci for “Monk,” is nominated as a guest actor this year, too, but for his dramatic work on “ER.”

The fact that 67% of the comedy guest actor nominees come from NBC’s “30 Rock” could be a case of the finest actors in the business being drawn to an award-winning show, or it could be a coincidence.

“I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence, talent or just the number of guest stars that ‘30 Rock’ had last season,” said Bob Sassone, entertainment journalist and lead blogger for TVSquad.com. “It’s probably a combo of the three. Also, ‘30 Rock’ is critically acclaimed and these guest stars really stood out.”

Nominee Will Arnett told the Associated Press, “They write great parts for all the regulars on the show and they write great parts for the people who get to come on the show. When they bring guest characters on to the show, they really try to give them something to do.”

Mr. Sassone pointed out that two of NBC’s biggest stars, Jerry Seinfeld and David Schwimmer, guested on “30 Rock” and were not included in the nominations. Also left off the list were Vice President Al Gore and semi-regular Dean Winters.

ATAS Chairman-CEO John Shaffner said, “‘30 Rock’ is the perfect showcase for this kind of stunt casting because of the subject matter. They’re always looking for someone whose essential fame and character can bring another level into the storytelling process. There’s a kind of a subtext that would not be apparent should you just go out and hire the best actor for that job. There’s an awful lot of stunt casting going on.”

Casting an already big star in a guest turn is the essence of stunt casting and has been successful in past years. NBC’s “Will & Grace,” for example, was the platform for three guest actor Emmy winners: Gene Wilder, Bobby Cannavale and Leslie Jordan.

Mr. Sassone compared the two: “I have really been afraid [“30 Rock”] was going to turn into another ‘Will & Grace,’ which had way too much stunt casting. But so far these choices of guest stars have been really clever, and the characters have been well written, which helps.”

Not all stunt casting works, however. One of the most high-profile guest-starring roles in 2008, Britney Spears on “How I Met Your Mother,” earned headlines but no nomination.

Mr. Sassone pointed to a classic guest-starring Emmy winner, Carl Reiner on “Mad About You” in 1995. In that show, Mr. Reiner played Alan Brady, the character he created on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” in 1961. “That was great, because you hardly ever see a character from one show reprise the role on another show, especially 30-plus years later.”

As for who will win, Mr. Sassone said, “I have a soft spot for Tim Conway’s role on ‘30 Rock,’ but I would guess it’s going to go to Rip Torn. For actress, it’s a lot more difficult. It’s probably going to go to someone from ‘30 Rock’—surprise—and I bet either Carrie Fisher or Elaine Stritch.”