(CBS/AP) "30 Rock" took on its second live episode Thursday night, and the result was successful and, yes, lively.
Live television was the subject of the episode itself - it opened with Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) telling Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) that to save money, the sketch-comedy show "TGS" would be filmed in advance, not broadcast live.
"From now on," he explained, "you write and shoot the season in two weeks, like 'Wheel of Fortune' and Fox News."
"'TGS' has to be live or it will lose all its excitement and spontaneity," Liz protested. "That's the beauty of live TV: Anything can happen!"
And with that, the first surprise of the night happened - Kenneth (Jack McBrayer), the former NBC page-turned-censor-turned-janitor, entered Jack's office with Paul McCartney, telling him, "Here's a bathroom you can use." McCartney then disappeared into the executive bathroom.
Liz agreed once she realized filming "TGS" would be quicker and easier, but Kenneth wasn't so easily swayed. He locked a bunch of the show's stars and staff in Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan)'s dressing room, swallowed the key and argued passionately for the excitement that live TV brings, using programs from NBC's past as examples.
This paved the way for a series of wacky flashbacks, including the 1950s live sitcom "The Lovebirds," a spoof of "The Honeymooners."
In the black-and-white sequence in a bare-bones Brooklyn apartment, Baldwin assumed the Jackie Gleason role, with Fey as the long-suffering wife originally portrayed by Audrey Meadows.
"You're a real cut-up," sneered Baldwin in a sendup of Gleason's ranting Ralph Kramden. "In fact, one of these days I'm gonna cut you up in pieces and feed you to the neighbor's dogs."
"It'd be the first time you've taken me out for dinner in years," replied the poker-faced Fey.
In another flashback, Baldwin played a pickled parody of Dean Martin from his 1960s variety series.
And "30 Rock" star Tracy Morgan appeared in a flashback from a pioneering 1950s sitcom that featured African-Americans - a spoof of "Amos 'n' Andy" with a burnt-cork-faced Jon Hamm as his black sidekick.
Among other surprise guests were Amy Poehler (as a young Liz Lemon, making prank phone calls at home on prom night), Jimmy Fallon (younger Jack Donaghy), Fred Armisen (a female telethon worker) and "Community" actor/former "30 Rock" writer Donald Glover (young Tracy Jordan).
Thursday's episode was the second such venture for "30 Rock," which aired live the first time in October 2010. As it did then, this half-hour was broadcast from NBC's Studio 8H - otherwise the home of "Saturday Night Live" - in front of a live studio audience.
The initial performance - telecast at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time - went smoothly, with no noticeable technical glitches and one minor flubbed line.
Three hours later, the cast and guest stars hit their marks once again for viewers in the western U.S. One change: instead of McCartney, Kim Kardashian made use of Jack's bathroom.
By the end of the episode, Jack was won over to the importance of live TV.
"`TGS' is meant to be live," he concluded. "To make it more profitable, we'll just need to do more sponsored product placements. Or I'll just pay you all less."
Then, Paul McCartney reappeared on stage, looking dazed.
"I slipped and hit my head in the bathroom," he said. "Who am I?"
"You're my boyfriend!" Liz told him as she gleefully led him away.
In the West Coast version, Kardashian had the last word. When Liz remarked that 2.5 million viewers saw "TGS," Kardashian strolled by and recorded the moment on video for her followers.
"Now, 14 million people just saw it. You're welcome," Kardashian said. "Oh, and also, I broke your toilet."