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‘30 Rock’ finale showcases music

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

By Frazier Moore

AP Television Writer


“When stuff is coming to an end, people freak out and they act crazy,” says Liz Lemon.

Liz and all the characters of “30 Rock” are doing just that on the series finale (airing Thursday at 8 p.m. on NBC) as they produce one last installment of their show-within-that-show, “TGS,” while anticipating life apart from one another.

But Jeff Richmond wasn’t freaking out, not even with the end (and a tight deadline) breathing down his neck: Just last Friday he was in a studio in midtown Manhattan, closeted with an eight-piece string ensemble, his baton raised, recording interludes of background music for that final episode.

After seven seasons (plus 14 Emmys, six Golden Globes and a Peabody Award), there are many reasons to remember “30 Rock” fondly:

The silky self-importance of soon-to-be-former Kabletown CEO Jack Donaghy (played by Alec Baldwin). The naked, comically off-kilter ambition of “TGS” star Jenna Moroney (played by Jane Krakowski). The manic abandon of her co-star, Tracy Jordan (played by Tracy Morgan).

There’s Kenneth, the toothy true believer (played by Jack McBrayer), who last week was promoted from janitor to president of NBC.

And could any viewer ever forget the unexpected newlywed and mother of adopted twins played by “30 Rock” mastermind Tina Fey? As the frazzled, none-too-spunky producer of “TGS,” Liz Lemon has been a new-millennium Mary Richards for whom “you’re gonna make it after all” always seemed a long shot.

But Jeff Richmond — an unseen, unsung hero of “30 Rock” — has been essential, too, for his service as the composer and arranger of the show’s distinctive score (in addition to his duties as executive producer and, by the way, Fey’s husband of 12 years).

At the show’s inception, Richmond composed the “30 Rock” theme song, which, in its tight 17 seconds, teems with cultural references and preparation for the show it introduces.

“It’s got a Gene Krupa drum thing and a baritone saxophone, like you’d hear in a burlesque show,” he says, listing some of its influences, “and it’s very New York — Cy Coleman, Frank Loesser. And the doo-wop singers make it feel a little retro.”

For fans of “30 Rock,” that theme by now seems second-nature.

But every week since the show debuted in fall 2006, Richmond has fashioned the background music that sonically frames the madcap action.

“The writers do such a great job creating these intricate stories,” he said. “The music helps clue the audience in to the recurring patterns and themes.”

Thus is the music Richmond conjures a guide and an organizing principle. It is treasure buried just beneath the surface of the viewer’s consciousness, enhancing the personality of “30 Rock” — without the audience even needing to notice.

On Friday, Richmond was presiding at a major scoring session for the hourlong finale at John Kilgore Sound & Recording. “I’m tired of writing goodbye music for all the characters,” Richmond said with a laugh.