Vote: Does Alec Baldwin Exist in the 30 Rock Universe?

30 Rock’s recent Season 6 premiere reminded me of one of the unresolved mysteries of Season 5:

Does Alec Baldwin exist in the 30 Rock universe? As in, the actor, separate and apart from the character Jack Donaghy?

Read on for arguments both for and against this, and vote at the end of the article!

First, a quick recap: at the end of Season 5 of 30 Rock, Jack’s wife is kidnapped in North Korea. Since this was prior to Kim Jong-Il’s passing, this allowed for a few hilarious Margaret Cho performances of the Dear Leader as the self-aggrandizing moviemaker-cum-dictator. The episode gives us two clips of the movies he made with Tracy Jordan. The first an untitled spy-action thriller:

"I defuse bomb, black partner! Hasta la vista, baby!"

It’s hilarious in its own right, but the second one is even better: Kim Jong-Il’s version of Glenngary Glen Ross:

"Put that coffee down! Coffee for closer only!"

(Note: YouTube clips of these scenes are unavailable, but the entire episode is available on Netflix Instant Streaming.)

Yes, that’s Kim Jong-Il in Alec Baldwin’s famous role from the movie. Alec Baldwin, as in, the actor who plays Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock. The movie Glenngary Glen Ross clearly exists in the 30 Rock universe. But does that necessarily mean that Alec Baldwin does too?

The real Brian Williams on a fake NBC show on the real NBC

Before we answer that question, let’s consider how 30 Rock handles awareness of real-life pop culture. For the most part, it is highly aware of it. The show-within-the-show The Girlie Show is on real-life network NBC, and NBC personalities like Brian Williams and Jerry Seinfeld have made cameo appearances on 30 Rock as themselves. The dialogue is littered with references to real NBC shows, other networks’ shows, and real movies.

But explicit references to TV shows and movies that feature 30 Rock stars are typically off limits. Instead, references come in the form of thinly-fictionalized versions of the real thing: The Girlie Show stands in for Saturday Night Live, and Tracy Jordan’s movies and antics borrow heavily from Tracy Morgan’s real-life movies and antics. We as the audience can fill in the blanks and make the connections between the fictional version and the real-life version, but we still require that separation in order to maintain the suspension of disbelief required to accept that this fictional slice of NBC can exist in an otherwise real-life media environment.

So given those rules, how do we handle the existence of Glenngary Glen Ross within the 30 Rock universe?

One option would be to discard it entirely. This scene plays during the end credits, which is separated from the rest of the episode by a commercial break. It’s a portion of the episode reserved for throw-away jokes that most people won’t even see because they’ve moved onto something else or the DVR stopped recording. But that wouldn’t be very Overthinking It of us at all to dismiss it outright. So let’s move to the next option: to consider that both this movie and Alec Baldwin exist in the 30 Rock universe. If this is the case, the show has chosen to avoid the Alec Baldwin issue entirely. To my knowledge, outside of the Kim Jong-Il scene, the show has made no explicit references to Alec Baldwin, either through his movies or his real-life persona. This works fine from the point of view of us, the audience, watching a TV show. We don’t have to deal with the jarring collision of a character and the actor that portrays him/her like we did in Oceans 12, in which the characters attempt to pass off Julia Roberts’ character as…Julia Roberts. There’s even a Bruce Willis cameo:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zN3IqLnwLVc

But consider the media-savvy characters of 30 Rock. They’re constantly referencing pop culture and would surely be familiar with Alec Baldwin’s movies and his many memorable roles and lines. They would point out the physical resemblance between Donaghy and Baldwin and the resemblance between Donaghy’s cutthroat business sense and the Glenngary character’s “Third prize is ‘you’re fired'” cutthroat business sense. It would be a constant source of material for Liz in situations when she’s trying to gain the upper hand on Jack.

But they never do these things. So maybe Alec Baldwin doesn’t exist in the 30 Rock universe after all. This is our third option: that an actor other than Alec Baldwin plays the “Coffee is for closers” role in Glenngary Glen Ross. This is a more convenient scenario, and it avoids all of the issues mentioned above. But it brings up its own set of issues. Based on Kim Jong-Il’s affinity for the scene, this mystery actor turned in a memorable performance in Glenngary. Did he go on to do other work? Is he a substitute for Alec Baldwin in his other movies, like The Hunt for Red October and Beetlejuice, or do they not exist at all? What about the other Baldwin brothers? Do they and their movies exist? And what about Team America: World Police? Who is Kim Jong-Il’s #1 actor shill in that movie?

"Arrec Barrwin!"

Does it even exist at all? I hate to think of a world in which Toofer, Lutz, and Frank haven’t seen Team America: World Police.

Troubling questions abound in all three options, which is why I’m not settling on any of them and leaving it to you, the readers! Consider the evidence carefully and cast your vote in our poll:

Does Alec Baldwin exist in the "30 Rock" Universe?

  • Yes. The fact that he looks just like Jack Donaghy is a coincidence that has never been acknowledged. (46%, 84 Votes)
  • No. Someone else played his role in "Glenngary." (40%, 73 Votes)
  • N/A. The "Glenngary" scene was a throw-away and shouldn't be considered as canon. (14%, 26 Votes)

Total Voters: 183

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Also, duke it out in the comments and attempt to persuade others of your choice. Everyone who votes for the first place answer gets a Cadillac El Dorado. Everyone who votes for second place…you know the rest. I don’t think you want to be left in third place.

Update 2/14/2012: The poll is now closed, and Yes, he exists won first prize, a Cadillac El Dorado, with 46% of the vote. (Important caveat on the “yes” option: many commenters brought up the possibility that Alec Baldwin in this universe doesn’t look like the Alec Baldwin in our universe, or that Jack Donaghy doesn’t actually look like the Alec Baldwin of our universe. Crazy stuff.) No, he doesn’t exist won second prize, a set of steak knives, with 40% of the vote. N/a – not canon won third prize, YOU’RE FIRED, with a measly 14% of the vote. Thanks to everyone who participated! I hope this mystery is resolved before the end of 30 Rock’s run by a cameo appearance of Alec Baldwin, or his alternate universe counterpart…Balec Aldwin?

30 Comments on “Vote: Does Alec Baldwin Exist in the 30 Rock Universe?”

  1. Hazbaz #

    Is it possible that all of Alec Baldwin’s roles in the 30 Rock universe were instead filled by his Latin-American doppelgänger Hector Moreda from Season 3?

     
    • FCDruid #

      Personally, I think that the perfect solution here is that in the 30 Rock universe Alec Baldwin is black.

       
  2. Charlie X #

    This goes further than simply Alec Baldwin. Both David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston have played roles and yet I’m betting Friends existed.

    My thought is that it’s like Carrie Fisher in Scream 3 where she plays a character who simply looks like Carrie Fisher.

    In fact that’s another bit of proof with the bitter old writer Carrie Fisher played in 30 Rock, and yet Star Wars clearly exists, given Liz’s love of it.

     
    • Biggart #

      Actually we know Friends existed in the 30 Rock universe. Jack Told Lemon he was watching it, and asked if Rachel and Ross would get together.

       
  3. Jacquelyn #

    Jack does make a subtle reference to Hunt for Red October and Alec Baldwin’s playing of Jack Ryan (I’m sorry I don’t recall the exact episode), when he is advising someone against turning down a multi-million dollar character franchise, which I think was the most outright crossing of the Jack-Alec boundary of character.

     
    • Will #

      I think it was the 100th episode one, where Tracy is desperate to remove the expectations that his Oscar-winner status has imposed on him, and Jack resolves the problem by advising Tracy to simply go back to the show, and the act of being on TV will instantly dissolve all the goodwill Tracy has built up, referencing that even someone who’d had the clout to walk away from a mega-millions Franchise would become a nobody if he were to do TV.

       
  4. cat #

    I don’t watch this show but based on the information in this article, I’d say we’re dealing with an alternate universe. Therefore, the movie exists but the actor in the role is either not Alec Baldwin or is alternative universe Alec Baldwin who might not look or act like him in any way therefore avoiding the comparison to Jack.

     
  5. Taylor #

    Matt Damon played Liz Lemon’s boyfriend last season. There was a scene where she was discussing Invictus and said “Wait, who was the white guy in that?”

    Which may be evidence that Liz is aware that the actor Matt Damon (and Alec Baldwin by extension?) does exist in the 30 Rock universe but they choose to ignore it.

    There’s also the possibility that actual version of Glenngary Glen Ross doesn’t exist in 30 Rock’s universe and that Kim Jong Ill’s is the only version.

     
  6. Zeta #

    I think it would be more fun to think about who would be the anti-Alec Baldwin in the 30 Rock universe. Like in The Last Action Hero, where Stallone plays Arnold’s role in Terminator 2.

     
  7. Matthew Belinkie #

    What I assume is that there is an actor named Alec Baldwin in the 30 Rock universe, but he does not look like Alec Baldwin. In other words, if we need to see The Hunt For Red October on the show, I’d expect to see another actor in the lead role, who the characters still refer to as Alec Baldwin. In other words, that actor would be playing the ROLE of “Alec Baldwin,” as the real Alec Baldwin is playing the role of Jack.

    I actually think this about ALL movies/tv shows. The actor’s other movies still exist within that world, but the actor’s FACE is unique to the character. So for instance, the Rambo movies totally exist in the world of the Rocky movies, and they star “Sylvester Stallone,” but Sylvester Stallone does not look like Rocky Balboa. (NOTE: I can’t think of an actual example of this happening. But it’s how I would handle it, if I had a fictional world to play in.)

     
    • Jack #

      I think it was Last Action Hero where the kid goes into the world of a Schwarzenegger movie and in the movie-verse there’s a poster for The Terminator, but Stallone is on the cover.

      Aaand I just realized that’s like the opposite of what you just said. Oh well.

       
  8. Nick #

    Chuck Klosterman brought up this exact issue in (I think) Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, with numerous examples.
    The one I remember is from Friends where he compares the appearance of Bruce Willis playing a character that isn’t himself in 3 or 4 episodes, to Joey, Ross and Chandlers oft mentioned enthusiasm for Die Hard.
    His way of putting it was to question exactly what the three of them see when they watch Die Hard. Since they don’t acknowledge the similarity of the character played by Bruce Willis to the real life Bruce Willis, are we supposed to imagine that when they in the Friends Universe see Bruce Willis the actor he looks different – but is otherwise the same man, making the same films – or do we as viewers perceive Bruce Willis’s character (and possibly every other Friends character) in a different way than they see themselves?

    Personally I like the latter explanation best.

    Also what if you took this train of thought further, to biopics and true stories? When we watch “The Social Network” for example, we’re supposed to think of Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerburg – a real life, breathing person. The film doesn’t create it’s own fictional universe – it’s supposed to be telling us a story that really happened in the real world. But in the real world Jesse Eisenberg had already made Zombieland and Adventureland before The Social Network. So what are these films like within the supposedly real world that The Social Network takes place in?

    I think that’s why I like Klosterman’s second explanation, above. If we think of the TV screen as a kind of warped window, when we look at the universe inside it the appearance of everything there is different to us than it is to those who exist within it.

    We look at Jack Donaghy and see actor Alec Baldwin. The characters of 30 Rock look at him and see Jack Donaghy. A man who appears completely different to the Alec Baldwin from their universe.

    So to sum up: Yes, Alec Baldwin exists.

     
    • Isaiah Tanenbaum #

      So we have a Quantum Leap effect, basically.

       
  9. Upthrust #

    I’m partial to Nick’s explanation because it also solves the issue outlined here: http://bit.ly/bBBZqA. How else could TV characters be convinced that beautiful people were so ugly?

     
  10. Joey T #

    Garry Shandling existed in “The Larry Sander Show” universe and was a “horrible actor”.

     
  11. Spankminister #

    A similar problem occurs on Studio 60, when Allison Janney makes an appearance on the titular SNL stand-in show as herself, and reference is made to “The West Wing.” Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry, who also played characters on the West Wing, star as character in Studio 60 (the actual show, not show-within-the-show). There’s no video footage, so it’s certainly possible that their characters are played by other people in the Studio 60 world’s version of The West Wing.

     
  12. Denis #

    Have you considered that maybe Glenngary Glen Ross doesn’t exist within the 30 Rock universe and that it’s just the invention of Kim Jong Il’s fevered imagination?

     
  13. Emma #

    Glengarry Glen Ross was a play first. Alec Baldwin didn’t star in it. The play can still exist without the involvement of Alec Baldwin.

     
    • Matthew Belinkie #

      WAIT A SECOND. Alec Baldwin’s character is not in the stage version of the show. The character and his “always be closing” scene was added by Mamet for the movie… specifically with Alec Baldwin in mind. So in a world with NO Alec Baldwin, the movie would have been adapted without that additional scene.

      So maybe in the 30 Rockaverse, Kim Jong Il wrote it himself?

       
      • E #

        This is an acceptable alternative. I love the idea of Kim Jong Il writing Glengarry Glen Ross fanfiction. :D

         
  14. fenzel #

    _It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia_ has an interesting episode where Frank recalls the story of how he and his brother fell in love with the same jazz singer.

    “Reggie,” the guy who ends up with the jazz singer, is played in flashbacks by Lande Reddick (Daniels from The Wire) in a series of very dramatic and period-appropriate costumes, and “Shadynasty,” the jazz singer, is a very attractive woman whom I did not recognize from other stuff. Danny DeVito plays himself with a toupee and bad costuming to give the impression he’s supposed to be younger. It’s all fairly dreamlike.

    At the end of the episode, the two brothers chase down Shadynasty at the airport and meet Reggie. They look nothing at all like their flashback selves – they’re both overweight and unremarkable looking – they look like regular people, not TV stars. Everybody is a bit nonplussed by this turn of events and goes on their way.

    The suggestion is that, in the world of _It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia_, the people played by TV or movie stars – or by models or stuff like that – only look that way to us because of the conventions of the storytelling medium – to the characters, they look like regular people. The characters themselves look like regular people to each other (not that the core cast are at all the most attractive people on the show; that’s kind of the point).

    So, maybe we could extend this suggestion to other shows as an alternative explanation for characters in television shows who take us out of the story by looking like TV or movie stars — that the characters themselves don’t look like that to each other.

     
  15. marc #

    I voted for the second option ( everyone ignores the similarity) without really knowing why, but after thinking about it for 2 days I understood my own reasons.
    I think all three are easily viable, but I don’t want any universe (even a fictional one) where “Alec Baldwin” isn’t Alec Baldwin. Jack Doneghy, not “looking” and “acting” like Alec Baldwin wouldn’t be Jack Doneghy. And if there was a different 30 Rockaverse version of AB, countless awesome things in that universe, such as Team America might be diminished. I guess my brain couldn’t deal with that. And I guess it could also not deal with just saying it wasn’t canon, which seems kinda like a copout.
    Also, up until the latest episode ( or maybe the second to latest) we’d never seen what Jack looked like when he was young (i think). Making it a possibility that in the 30 Rockaverse the similarity between Jack Doneghy and Alec Baldwin only became really pronounced as they got older.

     
  16. Patrick Perez #

    Without giving it much overthought, my thinking is that Alec Baldwin is an actor with 30 Rock Alec Baldwin’s CV, but he is physically a different person who does not look anything like Jackie D. The only similarity between them would be the gravitas they exude, so there would be no reason for the TGS people to ever consider the question.

    And if it were up to me, the substitute Alec Baldwin would be Adam Baldwin, who played a neat circular reference to his breakout role from My Bodyguard in a montage sequence in Drillbit Taylor, interviewing for the job of bodyguard to the teenage wimp central characters, so he’s got experience in transdimensional weirdness. Add to the fact that he isn’t a Baldwin proper (but after Alec, he’s the only good Baldwin).

    If anyone needs me, I’ll be in my bunk.

    Patrick

     
  17. WendyD #

    I think Alec Baldwin does exist in the 30 Rock universe, he just uses the Jack Doneghy persona as a secret identity.

     
  18. atskooc #

    ben affleck in the view askewniverse brings up the same paradox. affleck has the lead in “chasing amy”, yet plays both himself and holden mcneil (his “amy” role) in “jay and silent bob strike back.”

     
  19. Svan #

    One possible solution to what the doppleganger might look like is offered in the episode where TGS switches over to HD. We see many of the main characters pass through the vision of an HD camera that reveals their true selves. Perhaps the man who plays the role of Alec Baldwin in the 30 rock universe is seen through the semiotic lens in this clip:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHRMYX23Jqg

     
    • Isaiah Tanenbaum #

      That’s actually Young Alec Baldwin, from Hunt for Red October.

       
    • Lee #

      Excellent find, Svan.

       
  20. Biggart #

    One thing I just realized is that throughout the series there have been other characters who look exactly like Jack. There was the Generalissimo and the sandwich delivery guy. The Generalissimo even had an entire plot point devoted to how his image caused problems in Jack’s life. I think this may simply mean that Alec Baldwin is simply one of many people who look exactly the same in the 30 Rock universe.