Tina Fey's now 10-year-old daughter, Alice, unwittingly came up with some of 30 Rock's most popular and enduring expressions (e.g. "I want to go to there"). And when it came to Fey's latest project, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt — a Netflix comedy about a young woman who moves to New York after spending 15 years trapped in a doomsday cult — Alice and Fey's 4-year-old Penelope helped plant another seed, even if it didn't catch on.
"The show was originally called Tooken, which in part was something I heard my kid say. Like that's the way a child speaks about something that is taken from them," Fey told BuzzFeed News, sitting beside her creative partner and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt co-creator, Robert Carlock, at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, California, in January. "It was meant to sort of represent that part of Kimmy's life had been taken from her and that she was determined to get it back."
While Fey and Carlock loved the unique sounding title, NBC — where the show was originally developed — did not. "That was the one thing that NBC was like, 'Absolutely not,'" Fey recalled with a chuckle. "I thought it was so catchy, so memorable, and they were like, 'It's a hard no.'"
While NBC, Fey, and Carlock mutually decided to pitch the project elsewhere, NBC's feedback ended up being invaluable to the co-creators as they continued to work on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which was soon picked up by Netflix, where it debuts on March 6.
"Once we agreed upon this [title], it ended up informing the episodes," Fey said. "They did end up leaning more towards the positive and the future as opposed to what had happened in the past."
"And I think the new title, while not as catchy as Tooken by any means, does emphasize what we want going forward," Carlock added. "Tooken will always be Kimmy's starting place, but going forward she's Unbreakable — and that's what the show is."
For Ellie Kemper, the opportunity to play the unrelentingly optimistic Kimmy Schmidt was part of the appeal of the series, but so was working for Fey and Carlock. "My first meeting with them was about nothing in particular, it was just a chance to meet them," she told BuzzFeed News at TCA. "Then, when my agent called a few weeks later and said they were thinking about creating this show with me in mind, whatever it is, of course you're on board! I mean, I'm a huge fan of 30 Rock and those two are geniuses, so you say yes to whatever they bring you."
It's a sentiment Kemper's co-star Jane Krakowski, who worked with Fey and Carlock on 30 Rock as the terrifically egotistical and endlessly quotable Jenna Maroney for seven seasons, also shares. "I trust them creatively so much that I will show up wherever they ask, know that I will be in great hands, and probably get one of the best roles of my life," she told BuzzFeed News at TCA, noting she signed on for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt without having read a single script.
And the feeling she has for Fey and Carlock is mutual. "There's not a better crayon in the box," Fey said of Krakowski.
On Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Krakowski plays Jacqueline Voorhees, an emotionally unstable NYC socialite who hires Kimmy as a nanny for her two children: Buckley (Tanner Flood) and the exquisitely named, Xanthippe (Dylan Gelula). And while the actor understands why people have made comparisons between Jenna and Jacqueline — both of whom are rich blondes who are prone to delusions of grandeur and lack any self-awareness — Krakowski and the creators worked very hard to ensure the characters were distinct.
"I see the strains that people are recognizing. I absolutely do," she said. "But to me, this character is so different than Jenna in every way really. I think a big thing for the show will be to identify itself away from 30 Rock. It's from the same creators, the humor is just as sharp with that tinge of pop culture and dark commentary, but it's such a different story. That's hard for people to understand until they watch it."
When BuzzFeed News spoke with Fey and Carlock in January, they were excited that in just a few months they would finally see audience reaction to the series that traveled down a very long, winding road in order to see the light of day. While it remains to be seen how people will respond or if they will get past those inevitable 30 Rock comparisons, Netflix has already bet big on Kimmy, ordering a second season before the first was even released.
And though Fey and Carlock don't believe their approach for Season 2 will change much now that they're creating content specifically for Netflix, they are toying with a few ideas that could have never aired on NBC. "Maybe we'll just have people screw," Fey joked of a potential running gag. "It doesn't have to be our main characters. Just pull back from a window or show people on the sidewalk going at it."
All 13 episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt will be available starting March 6.
This story has been updated to clarify that Fey and Carlock discussed pitching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt elsewhere with NBC.