The Light from the TV Shows: TGS: 30 Great Shows (That Don’t Actually Exist)

With “30 Rock” departing the airwaves after a not-unrespectable seven seasons – a particularly incredible achievement when you consider what an incredibly off-the-wall, insider-y sort of sitcom it was throughout its run – it seemed only appropriate to offer up some sort of tribute to the show in this week’s column. Unfortunately, since everyone else seems to have swiped all of the good angles that are 100% show-specific (indeed, I actually wrote a piece on the 30 best “30 Rock” guest stars for the “Today” blog, The Clicker), I had to think a little bit outside the box, but since a key aspect of the series was its show within a show, “TGS with Tracy Jordan,” it seemed like a perfectly reasonable concept to spotlight 30 of TV’s great fictional TV series. Lord knows these aren’t all of them, of course. Hell, even limiting myself to a one-fake-TV-series-per-real-TV-series rule…with the only exception being “30 Rock,” which seemed only fair, given the reason for the list in the first place…there are still thousands of omissions, so feel free to offer up your personal favorites that didn’t make the cut, “Family Guy” fans. (There’ve been so many on that show, I didn’t even know where to start.)

1. TGS with Tracy Jordan (“30 Rock”)

For those who can remember back to the pilot of “30 Rock,” Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) was originally in charge of a not-terribly-great sketch comedy series called “The Girlie Show,” but when GE’s new Head of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming, Jack Donaghy made an executive decision to add the completely unpredictable Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) to the show, the comedian’s ego necessitated a change in the show’s title to feature his name more prominently. 136 episodes later, we’ve scarcely seen a single “TGS” sketch in its entirety, and what bits we have seen have rarely been funny (at least not intentionally), but the shenanigans surrounding the series have been consistently hysterical.

2. The Alan Brady Show (“The Dick Van Dyke Show”)

Dick Van Dyke has discussed on many occasions how many TV writers have come up to him over the years and told him that the biggest reasons they decided to break into the business in the first place was because Rob Petrie and his cronies on Alan Brady’s variety show made it look like one of the most entertaining occupations in the world. Strangely, he hasn’t spoken nearly as much about how many of those writers finished their comments by yelling, “Thanks for nothing, you big liar!” I’m betting it’s about 50/50.

By the way, although “The Alan Brady Show” wasn’t real, the folks at MeTV talked Carl Reiner into doing a promo for the addition of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” to their line-up where he reprised the character. Funny stuff.

3. Invitation to Love (“Twin Peaks”)

If you’re not a David Lynch obsessive, you may not remember this soap opera, but those with keen eyes will recall that it turned up at least once in each of the first seven episodes of “Twin Peaks.” It’s also worth noting that “Invitation to Love” pointedly features identical-twin characters played by the same actress, which – in no way coincidentally – was more or less what Sheryl Lee did as Laura Palmer and Maddy Ferguson.

4. The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy (“Spongebob Squarepants”)

The best bit about this cartoon-with-a-cartoon was the fact that the “Spongebob” show runners reunited former “McHale’s Navy” co-stars Ernest Borgnine and Tim Conway to prove the characters’ respective voices. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.

5. The Terrence and Phillip Show (“South Park”)

Disproving a longstanding theory that Canadians can’t be funny while cementing the not-really-in-question suspicion that farts are always funny, it need only be said that Terrence and Phillip are a stone-cold gas. Sadly, this clip is from their movie, “Asses of Fire,” rather than their series, but it’s basically the same thing. Y’know, except filthier. Much, much filthier.

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5 Questions with Sara Paxton of “The Innkeepers”

Sara Paxton is best known for roles in horror flicks like the 2009 remake of “Last House on the Left” and “Shark Night 3D,” as well as comedies such as the teen romance “Sydney White” with Amanda Bynes and “Aquamarine,” in which she starred as a mermaid. The critics have largely been kind, and the admitted fan of Goldie Hawn and distant cousin of star Bill Paxton, whom she has never met, has earned comparisons to Reese Witherspoon. Even so, it was her down to earth, low-key goofiness which drew the attention of writer-director Ti West for “The Innkeepers,” a surprisingly scary blend of classic ghost story horror and contemporary indie comedy. (It opens in select theaters nationwide this Friday after a month-plus run on VOD.)

It turns out that the 23-year-old Ms. Paxton was born to play the world’s cutest nerd/slacker-cum-asthmatic ghost hunter, and she does it extremely well. What attracted West was the very unglam, slightly geeky and goofy nature she exhibits in real life, which somehow seems to fit with the reality that she is, at 23, a highly experienced professional actress whose earliest gigs included contributing child voices to “SpongeBob SquarePants.” (She is also one of the child “singers” of the long-running Nickelodeon cartoon’s theme.)

And so we bring you five questions with every nerd’s dream girl: Sara Paxton.

1. There was apparently a bit of weirdness [probably not actually ghost related] happening around the set of “The Innkeepers” and the movie was somewhat inspired by creepy things that happened on Ti West’s prior film, “The House of the Devil.” What really scares you?

Sara Paxton: I’m a big baby. Ghosts scare me. If I go see a movie with killers who break into your house, that doesn’t scare me. In the moment, I am scared [because] of the suspense in the movie, but when I go home I don’t think about it. I’m not thinking, “That killer’s going to come in.” But after a ghost movie, I’m like [in a scary voice], “The ghosts are everywhere.” People think I’m ridiculous. I kinda am.

2. So you were perfectly cast for this movie! Now, you’ve done a few horror films. You’ve done some, like this and “Shark Night 3D,” that were more in the fun or even silly category. You’ve also done the kind of horror film where, if the audience isn’t actually traumatized when they walk out the door, they don’t feel like they’ve gotten their money’s worth. Would something like “The Innkeepers” actually scare you more than “Last House on the Left”?

SP: Yeah, “The Innkeepers” scared me. I watched it at South by Southwest [SXSW] in the huge theater with everyone else. That was the first time I saw it because Ti wouldn’t let me see anything, which I’m fine with. Yeah, it scared me. It scared me because it’s unlike any scary movie that I’ve ever seen. Normally, when I see a scary movie, even though it does scare me because I’m a big pansy, I know when it’s coming. I’m ready. I wasn’t ready for this, so it really scared me. I wasn’t prepared [even though I was there when it was shot]. The way he puts it together afterwards makes it scary.

3. Both of your parents work in dentistry. [Paxton's mother is a dentist and her father manages the practice.] Can you talk about the importance of teeth in the performing arts?

SP: When I was a little kid, and I would do commercials and stuff, when I started losing my baby teeth, my mother would make me a little fake tooth. I wouldn’t get parts because of it, because casting directors would be mad. “We want real kids with [real teeth].” I never understood that. “I don’t wany to show my gap tooth.” Teeth are important, I guess you need good teeth, although sometimes they want the real deal — gritty characters with gnarly teeth.

4. You’ve said that Claire from “The Innkeepers” is probably the closest character you’ve ever played to yourself. Ti West describes you as “a charming goofball.” Is that easier or harder than playing somebody who’s very different from yourself?

SP: It’s easier. It is, because I don’t have to control it. You know what I think is the hardest thing? Playing sexy. Doing sexy roles and sex scenes — that terrifies me. Because I’m so nervous about it and so self-conscious about it that makes me not-sexy. Because I’m like [does an adorably bad quasi-Mae West impression], “This is me being sexy,” you know what I mean? I’m like “Oh, let’s do it!”…I have problems playing the [bad sexy English accent] “Come hither into my boudoir” kind of scenes. When I get those auditions, I panic.

5. You’ve been working fairly successfully as an actress since you were six. Do you ever fantasize about having a low-pressure, dead-end job like Claire in “The Innkeepers”?

SP: I wouldn’t say I fantasize about it, but some people think my job is a lot more glamorous than it is. I’m not like this big, famous movie star. Not that that’s what my goal is. At times you feel like, “Is this what I’m supposed to be doing? Should I do something else?” Obviously, I don’t because I love what I do, but it’s a hard industry to work in. It’s easy to get discouraged. You feel trampled on sometimes. When you’ve had three auditions, and you waited for them for an hour just to be treated like garbage or something, it gets too sad sometimes. But I think that it’s worth it if you love it, and I do. Just gotta keep pushing forward.

  

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