'30 Rock' Reinvented Situation Comedy, While Biting The Hand That Feeds [Videos]
Tina Fey's 30 Rock was a surreal sitcom that turned the genre on its head. High and low-brow comedy are treated as equals where punch-drunk punchlines often sail over the heads of even the most die-hard Feysians! To reinvent the 30-minute format, Fey also stole a page out of David Letterman's playbook - that is, disparaging jabs at its own TV network.
Many critics saw 30 Rock as the definitive heir to "Seinfeld," pushing comedy forward by fusing the relationship set-up of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" with the flashback jump-cutting of the single-camera "Arrested Development." But the self-deprecating humor of lampooning NBC and Comcast was really the common denominator that resonated across the show's cult-like fan base.
When Comcast snatched control of NBC from GE, 30 Rock labeled the family-controlled entity "Kabletown" and depicted chief Brian Roberts as an addled but extremely caring suit played by actor Ken Howard.
Kabletown was the thinly veiled satirical critique of Comcast. But you gotta agree that the multinational media conglomerate was a good sport about allowing Alex Baldwin's character Jack Donaghy to announce in its finale: "Gentlemen, today I moved Kabletown's customer service to a part of India that has no phones. We're now providing the same level of service to our subscribers at zero the cost."
Tina Fey's writing team realized early on that no one watches sitcoms for storylines - that's the work of drama. Instead, viewers gravitate toward individual jokes, catchphrases, pratfalls and sketches, where they inevitably end up sharing them at the watering cooler, known as social media. Here Donaghy makes fun of "the company" purchasing it's own social network, called "YouFace."
Brian Steinberg wrote in his AdAge column that the "30 Rock writers judged themselves to be successful when a joke from the show gets tweeted, shared, posted or watched endlessly on YouTube, not on whether or not TV critics swoon over the actual story of an individual episode."
Here are some of the now famous Liz Lemon & Jack Donaghy one-line zingers directed at NBC and Comcast:
Liz: But aren't NBC and Kabletown the same company now? That seems like a pretty big conflict of interest. Why would the government even allow that merger?
Liz: CNBC. gives me a headache. I get all my money advice from PBS.
Jack: This thing's a real cash cow, unlike 'Cash Cow', the failed NBC spin-off of 'Cash Cab'. You try riding a cow through mid-town Manhattan, Lemon. The animal will panic.
Jack: Our new slogan: "NBC: We have a magical horse" is testing!
Jack: I'll swing by MSNBC. I have to talk to Rachel Maddow. Only one of us can have this haircut.
While the show was a critical success and won lots of awards and accolades over its seven-year run, it was never a popular success in the vein of a "Cheers," "Mash," or even "Seinfeld." Perhaps 7 years was not enough time for its cult-like following to scale -- and perhaps in years to come with the aid of reflection, we'll be able to really appreciate Tina Fey's slice of Americana.
Steinberg believes the show with all its innovation may have been "too smart for the room. . . and too erudite to find appeal by the masses." I don't think that's the case. IMHO, Tina Fey will go down in the annals of TV comedy as a genius fit to sit among the likes of Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. And if you don't agree that she entered today's mass audience zeitgeist, just check her out in your local supermarket this spring, where you'll find a new frozen Ben & Jerry's treat that immortalizes the comedienne, dubbed, what else? . . . the “Liz Lemon."