I loved 30 Rock, so I’m sorry to see it go. I had forgotten NBC launched both 30 Rock and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip at the same time, which definitely couldn’t have helped either show. This fact was brought up in almost all the articles below. I really enjoyed reading through these articles.
TV became overwhelmingly white, again. Mostly black shows, like 227 and Amen, were largely stressless havens, free of racial and social upheaval. That comfort continued to swell in the 1990s with shows like Living Single, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Family Matters. (Fox had the blue-collar black family on Roc, but it might have been too real; it lasted only three seasons.) Most of these shows took the wrong lessons from The Cosby Show and its black-college spin-off, A Different World, the two most important shows about black life in the history of television. The former took lavish pride in blackness and the black middle class. The latter offered an absorbing survey of the many ways to be black. But each show could also be watched, respectively, as a universal half-hour about a large, loving family and as a resonant dramedy about the ups and downs of higher education. Not seeing blackness in either show meant the writing was generous enough to permit you to see past it. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t there. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Family Matters were more insipid shows that nonetheless managed to further normalize a black middle class, while characters like Carlton Banks and Steve Urkel followed the cool nerdiness of A Different World’s Dwayne Wayne and further expanded the parameters of who else a black male could be.
But the problems of race and racism were shuttled off to cop procedurals and courtroom dramas or were being fought on nascent daytime talk shows and reality stunts like the alarming first two seasons of The Real World. 30 Rock turned a sharp corner on the depiction of those conversations. It’s useful to remember that the show debuted in the fall of 2006, right before the cancellation of Aaron Sorkin’s terrible Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, whose setting was a sketch comedy show that was too proud of all the positions it took to be funny. That show resulted in nearly two dozen episodes of awkward self-misunderstanding. It was like watching a horse try to ride a man.
The Alec Baldwin moments in this Rolling Stone look back are great, but also:
For Fey, the biggest triumph of 30 Rock is its very survival: the unlikely persistence of a show sufficiently unhinged to use blackface on three occasions; to have Jane Krakowski’s monstrously narcissistic Jenna Maroney consummate her self-adoration by marrying her own male impersonator; to have Elizabeth Banks’ Avery Jessup kidnapped by Kim Jong-Il as an unfortunate consequence of NBC’s “Hot Blondes in Weird Places” initiative. “I feel like we made a lot of good episodes of the kind of show that usually gets canceled,” says Fey. “The kind where there’s 20 episodes and ‘only me and my hipster friends know about it.’ That part’s still true. But we made 140 of them!”
What’s really crazy about 30 Rock is its sheer verbal velocity – punch lines go by so fast that even smart people may need to rewind (an industrious blogger calculated that a 2010 episode averaged 9.57 jokes per minute). “It requires you to pay attention in a way that you don’t always want to at the end of a long day,” says Fey, “and I get that. I’m a professional comedy worker, and there would be days when I’m like, ‘I love Arrested Development, but I don’t want to watch it right now.’?
“30 Rock” was modeled on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in many important ways, except for its heroine. Liz was not a goody-goody perfectionist like Mary Richards, or, by her own admission, Ms. Fey herself. Disciplined, ambitious type-A’s can be comical, as Ms. Moore, and later Candice Bergen, the star of “Murphy Brown,” proved. But Ms. Fey, who was the first female head writer of “Saturday Night Live,” chose as her alter ego a dumpy sad sack who just happened to be the head writer of a late-night sketch comedy show.
She created deliciously absurd characters like the silkily self-possessed network executive Jack Donaghy, played brilliantly by Alec Baldwin, and the insane comedian Tracy Jordan, played by Tracy Morgan, by grafting familiar show-business phenotypes onto those actors’ inner nuttiness. Ms. Fey borrows shamelessly from real life, except when it comes to her own success. It may be that she plays against type because she is uncomfortable with the deadly earnest role of trailblazer. But she is one.
Alan Sepinwall calls 30 Rock “one of the best comedies ever on television, about television.”
Where “Studio 60” struggled in part because it kept failing to convince us that its own fake “SNL” was a dazzling work of satire, “30 Rock” very quickly abandoned any pretense that “TGS” was supposed to be good — or interest in “TGS,” period — and (to paraphrase one of Liz Lemon’s favorite works of literature) in so doing, became a more powerful satire than we could have possibly imagined. It was a show about television, but by ceasing to be about a specific television show, it gained license to be about everything.
“30 Rock” could be wince-inducingly precise in its take on racism and white liberal guilt (in one episode, Liz mistakenly assumes Tracy is illiterate; in another, she struggles to break up with a boorish guy because he’s black). Through Jack Donaghy, the show ruthlessly lampooned the excesses of corporate America and our nation’s deeply dysfunctional political system. And through Liz, time and time again, “30 Rock” smartly — and always in a humorous context, so it never felt like a lecture — analyzed the struggles of being a woman in a male-dominated profession, and world. (Even last week, the show was still finding new jokes on the subject: Jack starts listing trailblazing women through history like Amelia Earhart, Joan of Arc and Diane Fossey, then stops to observe, “Boy, women who try to do things sure get killed a lot.”
Carlock was referring to the DVR audience not watching the show live and NBC including the data in the overall sample. “If you look at us solely in terms of traditional measurement, no way do we stay on for seven years without something else going on,” he believes. “That overnight number clearly isn’t almighty. If it were, it makes no sense that a show that’s as expensive as we were would stick around as long as we did. We had to be making people some money.” Indeed, some years it seemed 30 Rock and The Office were the only things keeping the lights on at NBCUniversal, given the creative and viewership quagmire in which the network found itself. “We were either the wrecking ball or the repair crew,” Carlock surmises. It’s also noteworthy that the series grew to become a reflection of NBC’s woes in more ways than one, with its spoofing of the real-life NBC merger with Comcast in the fictitious acquisition on 30 Rock of NBC from GE by Kabletown. So not only did the show survive; it did so while chowing down on the network hand that fed it.
So is it the best final season of an American sitcom ever? Not entirely, but the fact that it’s even in the conversation—and after seeing tonight’s excellent finale, I’d easily put it somewhere in the top 10—is a mark of how far Fey and her writing staff have brought the show from its darkest days, back in season four, when it occasionally seemed like the series had lost the plot entirely. What’s been so great about this final season of 30 Rock is that the show has now lasted long enough to pull off something that hasn’t been done in TV in a long time, mostly because TV comedy has been in such dire straits this last decade: It’s deliberately constructing the “end” of a sitcom story, a final season that closes a bunch of storylines fans didn’t even realize they were invested in, pulling back in loose ends from the whole run of the show. And when looking back at the history of that particular TV phenomenon, it’s useful to go all the way back to a show 30 Rock has often been in conversation with: The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
The central concern of 30 Rock is this: People don’t understand each other. That’s the basic structure of jokes—person one says something, and person two hears something different—but it’s also a philosophical problem. Two people, both speaking English, supplemented by body language, converse, yet their actual meanings remain inaccessible to one another. Over the course of the show, Liz Lemon gradually realizes that almost no one around her comprehends her. There is an irreducible distance between her and everyone else. (Writers may sense this problem more acutely than other people do.)
Vulture collects all the 30 Rock listicles. All of them.