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Tina Fey, Jerry Seinfeld Front Emmy Icons 2013 Portfolio

9:00 AM PST 09/18/2013 by Stacey Wilson, Marisa Guthrie, Lacey Rose
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"Breaking Bad's" Bryan Cranston, "Mad Men's" Matthew Weiner, "Arrested Development's" Mitchell Hurwitz and more legends of television on how the award can save a series ("30 Rock"), give validation beyond ratings ("Seinfeld") and provoke anxiety. Says "ER" creator John Wells: "I forgot to thank George Clooney in my acceptance speech!"

This story first appeared in the Sept. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

THE 30 ROCK BRAIN TRUST

Jeff Richmond (10 noms, 3 wins) Tina Fey (30 noms, 7 wins) and Robert Carlock (14 noms, 3 wins)

"I still wake up in cold sweats, grinding my teeth," admits Carlock, Fey's co-writer and co-executive producer, when asked if 30 Rock, which ended its seven-season run in January, feels like a distant memory. Adds Fey with mock exaggeration, "Even though it seems like a long time ago to us, it's sooo fresh in the minds of Emmy voters."

Not to worry: 30 Rock has been an Emmy darling since it bowed to less-than-robust ratings in 2006; only 4.7 million viewers watched the first-season finale. "We didn't have the biggest audience," admits Carlock, 40. "But we still had a big shelf full of Emmys!" In fact, 30 Rock won outstanding comedy in each of its first three years. "So, it would have been embarrassing and rude to cancel us," says Fey with a laugh. Of the show's Emmy haul Fey says: "It was a tool for our survival for many years."

PHOTOS: Emmy Icons: Exclusive Portraits of Tina Fey, Jerry Seinfeld and Bryan Cranston

In the past seven years, the workplace comedy -- inspired by Fey's years spent as head writer on Saturday Night Live -- has racked up more than 100 noms and made history in 2009 when it hauled in a single-season record 22. Fey herself has five statues, including one for playing the irrepressible Liz Lemon (in 2008). "The first year, we were such a long shot that we were seated up in the back in the cable-reality section," says Fey. "Then we won best comedy. Alec [Baldwin] was so sure we weren't going to win, he was in the bathroom."

Voters gave the show 13 more noms this year, including another for series and lead actors. Richmond, 52, Fey's husband and the composer of the series' jaunty theme song, earned a nom for the series' closing musical number.

And collaborators Fey and Carlock -- who signed an overall deal with Universal and recently sold a comedy project to Fox -- have writing noms this year, with Jack Burditt and Tracey Wigfield, for the series' final two episodes.

Asked if she'd like to be on TV again, the 43-year-old mother of two motions to her face: "I would love to, but I don't know if it's going to hold. I'm not doing all of the structural underpinnings. I was supposed to get Frankenstein neck bolts. We'll see."

Photographed by Miller Mobley on Sept. 4 at Jack Studios in New York City

Next … The King of Comedy: Jerry Seinfeld

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