The untold truth of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Netflix's kooky, oddly inspiring Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has a pretty dark premise for a sitcom: Ellie Kemper (The Office) stars as Kimmy Schmidt, one of the "Indiana mole women" who was rescued from an underground bunker where she had been held by a cult leader. Now, she's trying to live her own life in New York City, making up for lost time but embracing the world with the goofy enthusiasm of a child—and the slang of someone who has been shut off from the world since the '90s. 

In lesser hands, all that probably wouldn't work, but Kimmy Schmidt is the creation of 30 Rock's Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, and the stellar supporting cast includes Carol Kane (as Kimmy's landlord Lillian, who misses the grungy New York of yore), Tituss Burgess (as Titus, Kimmy's roommate with both aspirations and fears of acting success), and Jane Krakowski (as Jacqueline, Kimmie's self-absorbed socialite boss). Here's a look behind the scenes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

It was supposed to have a different name (and it was supposed to be on NBC)

In early 2014, NBC was so confident that it had a hit on its hands with Tina Fey's follow-up to 30 Rock that it ordered it straight to series—no trial pilot episode necessary. The show was called Tooken, and it starred Ellie Kemper as an endlessly optimistic woman moving to New York City, after being held in an underground bunker by a Doomsday cult leader in Indiana for more than a decade. 

But then once the 2014-15 TV season was underway, NBC abruptly announced that it had canceled the show, since retitled Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, because they couldn't find a place for it on their "very drama-heavy" schedule. But the good news: Netflix immediately stepped in and ordered up two full seasons of the show. 

NBC missed out. Kimmy Schmidt has been a hit for Netflix, which renewed the show for a third season. Its also earned critical accolades and Emmy nominations for Outstanding Comedy Series as well as acting nods for stars Ellie Kemper, Tituss Burgess, and Jane Krakowski.

The parts of Kimmy and Titus were written for Ellie Kemper and Tituss Burgess

Creators Fey and Carlock wrote the show with the main actors in mind. Kemper actually inspired Fey to create the show. "The idea initially came about out of using Ellie as the inspiration; just thinking about what characteristics Ellie had as an actress," Fey said at a 2015 Netflix event. "She has this sunniness and this strength combined." 

Fey added they "couldn't have done the show without Ellie," although they did work through some other premises for the show that would have led to Kimmy being a fresh-faced, fish-out-of-water observer of a modern world, such as being stuck in a well for a while, or waking up from a coma. They ultimately settled on the character emerging from an underground bunker. "I still am not sure what in my face screams 'bunker-cult victim,' but something did, so they went with that," Kemper joked on NPR's Fresh Air.

When the show was coming together, Fey and Carlock created the character of Titus Andromedon with Tituss Burgess in mind. Fey had enjoyed working with the actor mostly known for his Broadway work when he guest-starred on 30 Rock as a D'Fwan, a member of the posse that surrounds Tracy Jordan's wife, Angie. Nevertheless, Burgess wasn't a lock for the part. "I had to audition just like everyone else. Several of my friends even called me wanting to see if I could coach them on it," Burgess said.

Jane Krakowski wasn't originally in the cast

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is the second Tina Fey-created sitcom that Jane Krakowski has been in, following a seven-season run on 30 Rock. Strangely, she was actually a replacement for another actress for her roles in both shows. 

On 30 Rock, narcissistic actress Jenna Maroney was played by Fey's SNL costar Rachel Dratch in the pilot, before Krakowski replaced her. On Kimmy Schmidt, the character of Jacqueline Vorhees, a wealthy socialite who becomes Kimmy's boss, appeared in just one scene in the pilot, and the role was played by British actress Megan Dodds. She didn't work out, and Krakowski got the call once more, and re-shot the pilot before taking over the role in its entirety.

Jon Hamm was Ellie Kemper's drama teacher

Mad Men star and 30 Rock guest star Jon Hamm has a recurring role on Kimmy Schmidt as Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, the charismatic cult leader who kidnapped Kimmy and held her and other women in a bunker for 15 years. 

Kimmy Schmidt disappears into the Rev. Wayne's bunker when she's 14. In a creepy parallel, that's the age Ellie Kemper was when she took a theater class in her St. Louis area high school, that was taught by Jon Hamm

"I was in ninth grade and he taught the improv section of my theater class, and everyone loved him," Kemper said about Hamm, who had attended that high school and came back to teacher for a year after graduating college. "I think there's still a teacher-student dynamic, and acting with him was a little bit nerve-wracking just because I felt like he was still grading me on some level," Kemper added. Hamm has said that Kemper and her sister, Silicon Valley writer Carrie Kemper, were "incredibly diligent students and very, very talented."

The show and 30 Rock take place in the same universe

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt takes place in the same fictional New York City as Fey and Carlock's previous show, 30 Rock. Or at least it does "in theory," according to Tina Fey. There were plans at one point to shoot a scene at 30 Rockefeller and have 30 Rock's NBC page Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) walk by. 

Nevertheless, Kimmy Schmidt is loaded with 30 Rock references and overlaps. For example, on 30 Rock, Tracy Jordan coaches a kiddie baseball team from the fictional Knuckle Beach, "the worst neighborhood in New York." On Kimmy Schmidt, Kimmy's bunker-mate Gretchen (Lauren Adams) adopts a pit bull from a van labeled "Knuckle Beach Animal Rescue & BBQ." 

And on 30 Rock, actor Mike Carlsen plays a construction worker who catcalls Liz Lemon (Tina Fey). Carlsen shows up on Kimmy Schmidt as a construction worker who catcalls Kimmy, and then Titus. Realizing he's gay, the character, now named Mikey, begins a relationship with Titus.

It takes place in the Ghostbusters universe

In the first season episode "Kimmy Goes to School!" Kimmy enrolls in a GED program, and is stuck with a lazy, incompetent teacher named Mr. Lefkovitz (Richard Kind). While attempting to figure out why he's such a bad lackluster teacher, she finds a picture in an old yearbook of a student Mike Stampone. The caption says he's "off to Winston Zeddemore High" thanks to Mr. Lefkovitz. 

Winston Zeddemore is the name of the character played by Ernie Hudson in Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II. If there's a high school named after Zeddemore, it would likely be for his heroics in saving New York City from supernatural monsters on more than one occasion. And if there's a high school on Kimmy Schmidt with that name, then it's implied that the events of Ghostbusters happened in the Kimmy Schmidt world—the movies and the sitcom seem to have a shared universe.

You can buy pinot noir wine inspired by 'Peeno Noir'

In one episode, Kimmy's roommate Titus (Tituss Burgess) makes a music video on the sly with landlord Lilian, using a ringtone from his phone as a backing track. The song he writes is called "Peeno Noir," an appreciation of attractive black men. The song was a standout from the show, and drew so much attention that Burgess now has his own line of wine. Two of the three varieties are, of course, of the pinot noir type and along with a rosé, they each cost in the neighborhood of $20.

Martin Short's character is based on a real doctor

In the episode "Kimmy Goes to the Doctor!" Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) makes a visit to the office of her high-end plastic surgeon, Dr. Sidney Grant (which is pronounced "franff"). Dr. Grant is played by guest star Martin Short, and he's both a collection of strange behaviors and has obviously had way, way too many cosmetic procedures done to his own face. 

Gossip columnists immediately understood that Dr. Grant was a parody of Dr. Frederick Brandt, a dermatologist with many celebrity clients. Shortly after the episode aired, Dr. Brandt committed suicide. Brandt was reportedly upset about being parodied on Kimmy Schmidt, and was already coping with severe depression. 

Brandt's long-time publicist Jacquie Tractenberg denied that he committed suicide because of the embarrassment he felt from the show, but acknowledged that the show's mockery deeply upset him. "The show didn't help. It was mean. He felt bullied. It was mean-spirited picking at the way he looked for no reason at all. But he suffered from depression before that."

The music is extremely intricate

Jeff Richmond has written original scores for both 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. (He also happens to be married to Tina Fey.) Richmond adds a lot to his shows—he writes original music for every episode, something that's virtually unheard of in the world of sitcoms. A close listen reveals some recurring musical motifs. 

Scenes from Kimmy's point of view have musical undertones that Richmond says are "bright and hopeful." Richmond has also kept using a technique he developed on 30 Rock of making certain instruments dominant when certain characters are on scene. 30 Rock scenes with Liz Lemon had a lot of clarinet in the score because Richmond thought "the smartest girls in school" played the clarinet. On Kimmy Schmidt, Richmond scores Kimmy with a trumpet because "she's out there, in front of everything…no matter what, a trumpet cuts through everything" even if it sounds like it doesn't quite belong right away. 

"That's Kimmy," Richmond says. He also tries to give scenes with Mississippi-born Titus a Southern flair, and ones with Jacqueline have what Richmond calls a slick, New Yorky, "music-you-would-hear-on-a-Pan-Am-commercial-in-the-'60s kind of sound."