For this round of the TV Show Draft, I figured I would jump ahead a few years to prove that I watch shows that aired after 1980! There are very few shows that actually make me laugh out loud. For this round, I want to feature one of them – 30 Rock.
The show aired on NBC from 2006-2013 and was created by Tina Fey (who also starred on the show). It was based on many of her experiences while working as a writer on Saturday Night Live (SNL). The show was actually produced by SNL’s Lorne Michaels, and the character of Jack Donaghy is said to be loosely based on Michaels.
The show was nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards every year it was on the air. It won for Outstanding Comedy series in 2007, 2008, and 2009. In 2009, the show was nominated for a whopping 22 Primetime Emmy Awards – the most in a single year for a comedy series. The Associated Press once wrote, “NBC’s Thursday night comedy block – made up of My Name Is Earl, The Office, Scrubs, and 30 Rock – is consistently the best night of prime time viewing for any network!”
In the first episode of the series, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) is the head writer for an NBC comedy series, The Girlie Show. It stars her best friend, Jenna Marone (Jane Krakowski). When Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) enters as the new NBC Executive, he begins to revamp things at the network, including The Girlie Show. In the episode, he forces Liz to hire the very unpredictable (and sometimes crazy) Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) as the new star of the show, which will now be called TGS with Tracy Jordan.
A typical episode would feature the rigors of writing a comedy show, the jealousy of Jenna after being forced to share stardom with Tracy, Tracy’s immature behavior, arguments between Jack and Liz, and pokes fun at NBC’s parent company (at the time) General Electric.
As with many of the shows being featured throughout the draft, 30 Rock is one of those shows that features a wonderful ensemble cast – each with their own distinct and unique personality. The blending of these personalities is just one of the many reasons why this show is so funny. Wikipedia has a wonderful description of each cast member (here are a few):
- Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) – a “sexually frightened know-it-all” and head writer of TGS
- Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) – the loose-cannon, crazy, and unpredictable star of TGS
- Jenna Marone (Jane Krakowski) – original star of the Girlie Show, now co-star of TGS. She is Liz’s constantly attention-seeking, arrogant, and clueless best friend.
- Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer) – the cheerful, obedient, Southern-born NBC page who “lives for television.”
- Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) – the decisive, controlling, suave, and occasionally senseless network executive who constantly interferes with the on goings of TGS.
In the 7 seasons that 30 Rock was on the air, there are thousands of laughs, ridiculous story lines, hundreds of catchphrases, and quirky characters. So what makes it such a funny show? Here are just a few reasons.
Rapid Fire Humor
Today, most comedy shows are designed for a laugh or two. Long build ups with poor payoffs which basically allows the viewer to watch without really having to pay attention. 30 Rock, however, was like watching a stand-up comic. The jokes (and insults) come at you one after another! Those lines are often delivered in a straight manor by the actor. It is reminiscent of the movie Airplane! where the actors are spouting off silly lines with a serious tone and deadpan. I feel like every time I watch an episode, I catch something I miss (just like when I watch Airplane!).
Lots and Lots of Guest Stars and Cameos
I’ve always loved to see actors appear on Saturday Night Live and do some off the wall character. Many of the guest stars on 30 Rock did just that. Some of the stars who appeared over 7 seasons include: Edie Falco, Jennifer Aniston, Selma Hayek, John Lithgow, Megan Mullally, Peter Dinklage, Steve Martin, Julianne Moore, Jon Bon Jovi, Matt Damon, James Franco, Susan Sarandon, Alan Alda, Ice-T, Richard Belzer, Michael Keaton, Paul Giamatti, and Buck Henry!
Other guest stars appeared as themselves – Buzz Aldrin, Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Seinfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and Al Gore, for example. Recurring characters included Chris Parnell as Dr. Leo Spaceman (pronounced “spa-che-man), Jason Sudeikis as one of Liz’s boyfriends, Dean Winters as Liz’s ex-boyfriend, Will Arnett as Devon Banks (a guy out for Jack’s job), Rip Torn as Jack’s boss and mentor, and the great Elaine Stritch as Jack’s mother.
The Running Gags and Catchprases
Tina Fey loves a good running joke and there were plenty on 30 Rock. Some of them even spilled over into use in pop culture. For example:
“Blergh” is a handy expression you can use when the network won’t let you swear on TV. It is not a coincidence that it is also the brand of furniture from Ikea that Liz Lemon buys! Google trends suggests that 30 Rock pushed the word into the mainstream after it appeared in Season 1’s 2007 episode “Cleveland.” As it often happens with slang, blergh has become so prevalent, people will probably forget where it came from.
“Deal Breaker” is not a new phrase. It has roots dating back to 1979, and it was a Harlen Coben Book title in the 90’s. However, it gained new popularity after 30 Rock used it to describe relationships. Fey’s character write a book the points out all the “deal breakers” in relationships (“He never takes off his socks? Dealbreaker!”)
“I want to go to there” is a phrase that is exclusive to 30 Rock. We even know where it came from: Tina Fey got the odd grammatical construction from her young daughter Alice, and it quickly became one of 30 Rock’s most repeated quotes.
The “EGOT.” In 2008, Tim Long wrote a piece for Vanity Fair about Philip Michael Thomas, who, Long said used to wear a gold medal that simply said “EGOT,” which stood for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony,” awards Thomas planned to win in the next five years. The following year on 30 Rock, Tracy Jordan finds a diamond EGOT necklace and sets out to join the elite ranks of such all-around winners. Tracy reached his goal in Season 5, and, thanks to 30 Rock, the EGOT has become a term used in the entertainment biz today.
“Good God” is a phrase that is often used by Jack in various situations. The 30 Rock YouTube page has a video compilation of some of his best “Good God” moments. My favorite was spoken to an ill Liz Lemon after she get’s in Jack’s face and speaks. Jack simply says, “Good God, Lemon. Your breath! When did you find time to eat a diaper you found on the beach?”
30 Rock is one of those shows that you really just have to watch. I find it really hard to describe WHY you should watch it other than the reasons above. Baldwin was simply hilarious on the show, as was Tina Fey. The cast works so well together and the insane situations that are presented are so ridiculous, you can’t NOT watch. There are so many little “toss ins” and “cut aways” involved. A cast member will say something – the camera cuts to a brief scene – and back to where it cut away. Those “toss in” jokes never cease to make me double over in laughter.
At the same time, the writing and deliver of the dialogue is just brilliant. I thought I’d share a few of my favorite lines:
“I’m not a creative type like you, with your work sneakers and left-handedness.”
“What’s wrong, Lemon? When I see you chew your nails like that, it’s either you’re very anxious, or you handled some ham earlier.”
“I only pass gas once a year, for an hour, atop a mountain in Switzerland.”
“Never go with a hippie to a second location.”
“Ambition is the willingness to kill the things you love and eat them to survive. Haven’t you ever read my throw pillow?”
“We all have ways of coping. I use sex and awesomeness.”
“The world is made by those who control their own destiny. It isn’t made by those who don’t do, it’s made by those who do do. Which is what made me the man I am. I do do.”
“We have a show tonight. I’ve never missed a show. Not even the time I had that virus they kept saying only raccoons get.”
“Now I’m heading home for a nooner, which is what I call having pancakes for lunch.”
“Why are my arms so weak? It’s like I did that pushup last year for nothing!”
“I also have a lot of imaginary arguments with couples on House Hunters: Why can’t people look past paint color?”
“You can’t solve all your problems by shooting someone or setting a stranger on fire.”
“Fine, I’ll be okay. I got other ideas, like a microbrewery that also serves frozen yogurt. I’mma call it… Microsoft.”
“Here’s some advice I wish I woulda got when I was your age: Live every week like it’s Shark Week.”
“I’m not going to rehearse. I’m going to get a sandwich and then eat it on the toilet.”
“I watched Boston Legal 9 times before I realized it wasn’t a new Star Trek.”
“I’m gonna say to you what I say to all my sharks right before they die: Let’s go outside.”
“Liz Lemon, I may hug people too hard and get lost at malls, but I’m not an idiot.”
“We’re actors. If we didn’t exist, how would people know who to vote for?”
“Listen up, fives, a ten is speaking.”
“Your new vibe is a double edged sword, much like the one Mickey Rourke tried to kill me with.”
“Okay I’ll do it, but only for the attention.”
“But comedy is just as important as drama. People need to laugh, especially in these tough times. And after all, isn’t laughter the best medicine? Except for insulin, Spironolactone, and Bupropion, which I have for you whenever you’re ready, sir.”
“There are only two things I love in this world: everybody and television.”
In a 2018 article for Business Insider, 30 Rock was listed as one of the Top 20 shows who have won the most Emmy Awards. It had 16 wins and was nominated 103 times. To me, I’ve never really paid attention to whether or not a show was a big “award winner.” What is important is how it makes me feel. 30 Rock was a show that ALWAYS made me laugh – even the bad episodes had good stuff in them. I could always count on being in a good mood after watching it.
This is a show I wish had lasted longer than 7 seasons …