USA TV: NBC
UK TV: Comedy Central
While she was head writer on Saturday Night Live Tina Fey pitched the idea of a sit com to NBC. After various changes to her idea she produced the idea of a sit com based around her own stewardship of SNL.
30 Rock premiered in October 2006 to positive critical reviews and acceptable ratings. The show has generally pleased TV critics and been praised for its whacky satire and topical references. The ratings have usually been in the four to six million region, often depending on the show's proximity to The Office.
The first season began as you might imagine. Liz seemed to be the sympathetic main character put upon by her boss and her crew alike. She has boyfriend troubles and was trying to keep her stressed life from falling apart. Slowly however the show's tone changed and morphed into something else. The people in Liz' life became ever more like cartoon characters. Jenna's self-obsession and Tracy's insanity became increasingly ridiculous and her team of writers were slowly reduced in prominence and plausibility.
Liz herself also changed from heroin to the butt of the jokes. The least appealing aspects of her personality were constantly mocked and exaggerated. She was constantly portrayed as either pathetic or incompetent. Time and again she would be proven wrong in her quests or moral stands.
The only character to establish a vaguely plausible sit com existence was Jack. On a show which heavily satirizes right wing attitudes it was a bizarre choice but Jack turned into the island of sanity on the show. He was the only character to be proven right on most occasions and usually found success in his endeavors. The growing friendship between Jack and Liz turned out to be the one genuinely pleasant part of 30 Rock.
When I launched thetvcritic.org in 2009 I wanted to cover the shows which seemed relevant to other TV critics. 30 Rock was constantly lauded as one of the smartest shows on television and even though I didn't like what I saw I had no problem covering it. Twenty two minutes is not a commitment I have a problem making each week, even to something I don't like.
And I really don't like 30 Rock. I firmly believe that two of the keys to a successful sit com are characters you care about and logical context for humour. 30 Rock has neither and constantly tramples over logic to make bizarrely simple or silly gags.
In a way I understand and sympathise with Tina Fey. 30 Rock has often felt like a sketch show rather than a sit com. As her background is in sketch comedy and the show is based around a sketch show it's understandable that 30 Rock would turn out as it has. I also think Fey is a good sport and decided to mock herself and her bad habits through the character of Liz Lemon. However by reducing Liz to such mockery the show has no sympathetic central protagonist. By the end of season one it became impossible to care about any of Liz' desires or ambitions.
If you read any of my reviews you will quickly learn the contempt I hold much of 30 Rock's attempts at humour. Some of my resentment I admit stems from the praise of other critics. I firmly believe that 30 Rock constantly undermined its own attempts to be funny by removing the sense that anything happening was real or consequential. However that didn't seem to bother other critics who continually praised the show as being witty or even cutting edge. The latter claim really bothered me because a topical reference doesn't guarantee a good joke.
After five seasons of kicking 30 Rock around I decided that it was best if I stopped writing reviews of each episode. When I launched the site I wanted it to be a complete episode guide for every show that I cover. I have learnt that that simply isn't practical. I doubt many people will come to the site to enjoy just how much I dislike a show. With five seasons of review available I think I have made my arguments as best I can. I am a completist though and will probably continue to watch the show. I may even pop by to make a comment on future seasons when they end.