US sitcom set behind the scenes of a fictional live sketch comedy series.
90 episodes of 30 minute duration. NBC. 2006 - Present.
Tina Fey broke new ground as the first female head writer on Saturday Night Live, and eventually became part of the on-air cast, co-anchoring the show’s satirical news feature “Weekend Update” with Jimmy Fallon and doing other characters. Her SNL experience led her to create and co-star in this acclaimed show business workplace sitcom. But talk about the hand that feeds you! Fey and company have skewered NBC and its executives on a regular basis. Still, the network must be credited for keeping “30 Rock” on the air, despite ratings that would have otherwise sent this often-funny comedy into cancellation heaven.
Fey originally pitched 30 Rock (the nickname for NBC’s skyscraper headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City) as a sitcom about a cable news channel. But the network’s then-entertainment president Kevin Reilly encouraged her to write about what she knew. She reworked the series to revolve around a late-night sketch comedy and it made its debut on October 11th, 2006.
Fey’s Liz Lemon is the neurotic and relationship-challenged head writer of the sketch comedy The Girlie Show, which was renamed TGS With Tracy Jordan after Liz was ordered to hired the loose-cannon comic, played by fellow SNL cast member Tracy Morgan. Jane Krakowski (best known for her role on Ally McBeal) is Jenna Maroney, the co-star of TGS whose ego is bigger than her talent, and will scheme to get herself in the spotlight. Southern-born Jack McBrayer portrays Kenneth Parcell, the innocent and moral NBC page. Others in the cast includes Scott Adsit as show producer Pete Hornberger, and Judah Friedlander as the child-like writer Frank Rossitano. Arguably, 30 Rock’s best cast member is Alec Baldwin, the politically incorrect and power-hungry executive Jack Donaghy. As Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming for General Electric/NBC, one of Donaghy’s duties is to oversee TGS.
Unlike many series set in the Big Apple, 30 Rock is filmed in New York City (most of the scenes are done at a studio in the borough of Queens). Critics immediately took to the jokes and inside references to NBC’s lowly position in the ratings, not to mention the skewering of many real life NBC/General Electric executives. (GE had owned NBC until its 2010 purchase by cable television provider Comcast–a development written into the show’s fourth season when Donaghy became involved in an NBC takeover by a company called Kabletown, which made most of its profit by selling pay-per-view adult movies to subscribers.) And the show’s fans grew to love the outrageous characters led by relatively stable Liz Lemon (who is nearly as neurotic as her co-workers).
As it happened, 30 Rock premiered at the same time as another NBC series with a similar premise–the more serious comedy-drama Studio 60 on The Sunset Strip, which also used a fictional late-night comedy series as the basis for its stories. (See more on “Studio 60" in the Television Heaven USA review section.) And there was some friction between the two shows: “Studio 60" creator and executive producer Aaron Sorkin asked Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels (who is also executive producer of 30 Rock) to observe SNL behind the scenes for a week; Michaels denied his request. Still, Sorkin was gracious enough to send flowers to Fey, and wished her luck with the show. Fey indeed had better luck–“Studio 60" was yanked by NBC after just one season.
Some critics have compared 30 Rock to The Mary Tyler Moore Show–like Mary Richards, Liz Lemon is a single career woman working in the television industry, and the encounters between Liz and Jack Donaghy are certainly reminiscent of the spats between Mary and Ed Asner’s Lou Grant. Despite ranking 102nd among all series in its first season, NBC–probably impressed by the critical acclaim–renewed 30 Rock for a second run, usually paired with The Office on Thursday nights. And in its first three seasons, 30 Rock won the Emmy for Best Comedy Series; Fey and Baldwin won acting Emmys in 2009, and Fey won a writing Emmy for one of the show’s episodes. Baldwin won a second Emmy in 2010.
30 Rock also attracted a large number of guest stars–Elaine Strich, Whoopi Goldberg, Jerry Seinfeld, Edie Falco, Alan Alda, Julianne Moore, Matt Damon, Jon Bon Jovi, Steve Martin and Jon Hamm among them. In October 2010, 30 Rock took a risk by airing an episode live. The cast performed the show twice–once for the Eastern and Central time zones, and another for viewers on the West Coast. It did well in the ratings and critics loved the result. And while it has not been a front-line hit, NBC has stuck by 30 Rock. Which would have make Jack Donaghy both proud and frustrated at the same time.
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