By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - 0 Comments
I remarked earlier today that future cultural historians will look to old 30 Rock episodes to tell them what the broadcast TV system was like in its declining days. As we wait to see what happens in the series finale this Thursday (and whether they’ll have Liz turn out the lights in the building after everyone else has left), I wanted to expand on that a little. 30 Rock wasn’t simply the show that proved a live-action comedy could have the joke density of classic Simpsons; it was like a little mini-history of broadcast television in its decadent phase. If a good comedy is usually about something serious, then 30 Rock was really about something the people involved had every reason to take seriously: the impending decline of broadcast television in general and of NBC in particular.
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, November 6, 2012 at 5:11 PM - 0 Comments
The interesting thing about this U.S. election’s impact on U.S. television is the fact that its had any impact at all. Remember all the references TV made to the election of 2004? No? That’s because there were hardly any. Even though it was a close, hard-fought election in a deeply divided country–just like this one–TV mostly stayed away from it. It was a very timid time for TV: networks were panicked by 9/11, by the FCC, by the shrinking audience (it’s still shrinking now, but they’re used to it).
And so open political references were almost taboo unless they were done obliquely, like Arrested Development‘s parallels between the Bluth and Bush families. The Simpsons famously never had a caricature of George W. Bush on the show, let alone John Kerry. South Park‘s election episode in 2004 portrayed the election allegorically as “a choice between a giant douche and a turd sandwich,” making the episode a perfect capsule of how mindless Trey Parker’s centrism was at the time.
Since then, there’s been something of a thaw in television, and while it’s hardly become daring or anything, there are a lot more direct references to this election than eight or even four years ago. At least three half-hour comedies have done episodes where characters argue over the election, and mention the candidates by name. The New Normal was the first, then came 30 Rock. Then came Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing, a show that I thought was developing into a pretty good innocuous family sitcom; Allen apparently didn’t think so, though, because the show is back this year retooled (at his behest) into an All in the Family imitator, and the season premiere was about Allen arguing with his daughters over the election, and he thinks Obama is from Kenya, and makes “community organizer” jokes, and the whole episode sounded like a couple of politically-opposed Twitter feeds mashed together into a script.
Well, most political arguments on scripted TV (or unscripted, for that matter) sound like Twitter feeds, since there’s no room for nuance or developed arguments, even assuming the writers have any on hand. Usually what happens is one character says something that’s a grotesque caricature of the Republican or Democratic position, and the other character either a) responds with an equally grotesque caricature of a reply, or b) is completely stopped in his tracks by the incredible all-consuming logic of an argument any real person could rebut in five seconds. This is why 30 Rock was the best of these three episodes: apart from having the funniest writers, it was intentionally silly and caricatured, and made the political arguments more about the characters’ personal issues.
But even if those other two shows were trying to be All in the Family and failing, the fact that they even tried is a sign that television has emerged a little bit from the defensive crouch of the ’00s. Of course there are other reasons why shows might choose not to deal with topical issues like elections, most obviously the fact that an election episode dates the show for all time. (However, I think producers are naive to believe that avoiding topical references will help them be “timeless” in syndication. I watched shows in the ’80s that mentioned the election without ever mentioning the candidates’ names, but they still had the hair, the clothes, and the brick cellphones, and nothing was going to keep them from becoming dated.) And, as noted, these issues are usually beyond what the show is capable of dealing with anyway. But all in all, it’s probably better to see shows deal with issues rather than avoid them, so I think I’m glad we live in an era when the words “Obama” and “Romney” are not among the seven words you can’t say on TV.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 10:49 AM - 0 Comments
A show can be a hit, but if its viewers are over 49, chances are it’ll get the axe
A television show can get ratings and still be a failure. That’s what viewers of Harry’s Law discovered, to their chagrin, when the series was cancelled by NBC even though it was the network’s most popular scripted show. The drama, which earned an Emmy nomination for star Kathy Bates, had an average of eight million viewers per episode, compared to four million for the network’s flagship show The Ofﬁce, and fewer than that for renewed shows like 30 Rock and Parenthood. But most of Harry’s Law’s viewers were over the age of 50, and in modern TV, advertisers only pay high prices for viewers between the ages of 18 and 49. “It’s just harder to monetize that older audience,” NBC president Robert Greenblatt bluntly explained after cancelling the show. “Any rational person would argue a hit show with an older audience is better than no hits at all,” says Rick Ellis, founder of the news site All Your TV. “But broadcast television executives are not always known for their rational behaviour.”
Young adult viewers have been TV’s target demographic for decades, because they’re thought to have less brand loyalty and more disposable income. That didn’t make as much difference back when television shows reached a broader audience: if a show was a hit with old people, like The Golden Girls, it usually “brought in enough younger viewers to be viable,” explains Brian Lowry, chief TV critic for Variety. But today, Ellis says, the young audience is “fragmenting and moving to cable,” so different generations are often watching completely different shows. “The problem with the broadcast networks chasing the younger demo is that most of the time they aren’t reaching them,” Ellis adds.
That means there are an increased number of shows only older people watch, and advertisers don’t consider those shows to be hits. Jesse Stone, Tom Selleck’s series of TV detective movies, brought in a large audience of almost 13 million people—but only 10 per cent of those people were under 50, and the series was cancelled. So was CSI: Miami, which remained very popular with total viewers but looked mediocre in the 18-to-49 age group, or the “key demo” as show business trades call it. The need to attract young people also affects the casting of shows that stay on the air: shows like NCIS surround older stars with mostly young casts, and the recent revival of Dallas gives most of the screen time to a new cast of young, pretty people.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 11:40 AM - 2 Comments
There are a couple of things worth looking out for when it comes to U.S. TV ratings this week. Last week two shows did pretty well in “death” slots that were widely expected to endanger them, and if they can keep it up this week, and for a little while longer, it might mean that the networks have stumbled on a new-ish scheduling technique.
The two shows I’m talking about are 30 Rock, which was moved to 10 p.m. on Thursdays, and Fringe, which got moved to Fridays. NBC was worried enough about the 30 Rock move that it was given a guaranteed pickup for next season, just to make sure the experimental time slot wouldn’t kill it. Fringe had no such guarantee, and it looked like it was being placed on Friday to die.
But both shows did all right last week. In essence, they did what they usually do, maybe a little better thanks to the extra promotion, and those ratings, which were not good elsewhere, are more than acceptable in these new time slots. Fringe‘s numbers are not good, particularly if you don’t count the famous bump it gets from heavy DVR viewing. (And I have no idea if advertisers really care: if they don’t care about viewers over 49, why should they care about viewers who are free to skip the commercials?) But its slightly under 5 million viewers, poor for any other night, is actually pretty decent for Fridays as long as its audience remains young. A rating of 2 in the Coveted Demographic is something Fox can improve on during the week; they’ve done much worse on Friday night. If Fringe continues at this level, a fourth season — also on Friday — seems likely.
Same with 30 Rock. Its ratings have never been what a more successful network would consider a success on Thursdays at 8:30 or 9:30. But it’s not the kind of show whose ratings fluctuate a lot: it rarely does better than its usual level, but it rarely does worse. And while that level is not good early in the night, it’s pretty good at 10:00. That hour has been decimated on all networks due to DVR viewing and heavy competition from cable (since that’s the hour when cable counter-programming really kicks in). The viewership has gotten smaller and older. Which means that if 30 Rock gets what it usually gets in the Coveted Demographic, that’s good enough for a second-place finish at 10 — whereas at 8:30 it wasn’t even good enough to beat Shat My Dad Says.
The “code” both these networks may have cracked is that some shows go up and down in viewership, but there are some that are low-rated but reliable. Meanwhile, the hope of finding a real hit on Friday, or at 10, is declining fast; Friday may be going the way of Saturday (there used to be huge hit shows on Saturday nights), and young people increasingly don’t watch TV at 10. So those may be the right places for the shows that get a reasonable, acceptable number of young viewers. They won’t have a hit, but they’ll do much better than they would with almost any new show at those times.
This probably won’t work for a new show, though we’ll see what happens when ABC plugs in a new comedy at 10 o’clock on Wednesdays later this season. The danger can be glimpsed from what happened to Outsourced last week: having done well after The Office, it collapsed at 10:30, making me wonder if angry affiliates are once again calling up NBC about the effect on the 11 o’clock news. But Outsourced is a new show Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, October 16, 2009 at 3:30 PM - 6 Comments
One thing I didn’t mention in my 30 Rock post below is that because I don’t consider it a genuinely great show, I enjoy almost every episode. (I’ve even enjoyed the ones that most people found really disappointing, like the Steve Martin episode.) I think of it as a show that isn’t really going to achieve transcendent greatness, so I tune in expecting to get a few laughs, which it always manages to provide. It’s a reliably entertaining show. I think all of us have shows that we just enjoy, without worrying overmuch about whether they’re truly great. That is what television largely consists of, anyway.
But on the other hand, with shows I do consider great or potentially great, it can sometimes be agonizing to watch an episode, because I expect so much of it. If I’m hoping for the best thing ever, an episode can feel like a complete failure even if it has some good bits in it. We’ve all seen this happen. That’s why loyal fans of a show tend to be hyper-critical, whereas casual fans just enjoy the good bits — leading to the weird but typical dynamic, where the biggest fans of a show seem to hate it more than the ones who aren‘t huge fans.
The Simpsons hasn’t been a great show in a long time, but it hasn’t been really terrible in a while either (in my opinion). It feels like a perpetual disappointment because it has, in the distant past, been capable of greatness. Whereas the Seth MacFarlane shows have lower expectations attached to them, and something like American Dad gets my approval if it has a decent story and some good gags. A good current American Dad probably isn’t any better than a typical current Simpsons, but I can’t shake the feeling that Simpsons could do better.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, October 15, 2009 at 11:53 AM - 20 Comments
30 Rock is starting to get some critical pushback these days. It didn’t really deserve its third Emmy (I would say it was the third-best of the nominated shows, personally), and its extreme unevenness — great episodes alternating with weak ones, bad jokes and good jokes bouncing up against each other in the same scene — is getting out of hand. As the show begins what looks to be an equally uneven fourth season, some critics are saying not that it isn’t a good show (it is good) but that it falls short of greatness.
- Todd at the AV Club fears that the show is showing signs of decline, and compares it to another guest-star-ridden sitcom with weakly-defined characters, Will and Grace. (By the way, the AV Club comment section is, for the most part, distinctly unhelpful and full of people who are easily offended by any criticism of a show they like or, worse, good words for anything they consider uncool. It almost makes me glad to have few comments on most of my posts.)
Anyway, my own view on 30 Rock is that it has never been a truly great show (though it has been a very good one, and that’s enough), but it’s probably as good as it’s ever going to be. The show really only has two fully effective characters, Jack and Liz, mostly because they have the only fully developed relationship on the show, and good comedy depends on effective character relationships. (The writers tried to come up with a similar relationship f or Tracy and Kenneth, but they really didn’t make it.) The show is totally dependent on the jokes; a good episode is one where a lot of jokes land. Two good characters, some good jokes, and some fun satirical shots is enough for an entertaining show; I think that a show needs to offer more than that to be genuinely great.
But remember, 30 Rock is really the salvaged wreckage of a weak premise. Faced with an idea that wasn’t working and was too close to another then-new show, Studio 60, Fey and the other writers decided to solve the problem by pumping the show full of jokes, distracting attention from the fact that their original premise was not working for them. By the end of the first season, they had the problems worked out and had re-tooled the premise, but all the characters were left over from that original premise, and most of them had no point to their existence. If the show were to try, now, to turn Pete or Jenna into interesting comic characters, it would probably fail: not only are these characters not strong enough to support any exploration, but the writers committed themselves to a never-ending cascade of crazy jokes, and they can’t thin out the joke rate for the sake of some character development that wouldn’t work anyway. The high joke-per-page rate is the premise of 30 Rock by now; it’s Family Guy with better writers, or a middle-period episode of Night Court without the corny serious bits at the end. There’s nothing really wrong with that. It just means that it will always be mostly a showcase for joke-writing skill. It’s a first-rate showcase, and has also allowed Fey to make some interesting points about corporate life and TV that most shows wouldn’t make; to become a genuine ensemble show about more than two actual humans (and there are some episodes where Liz is so insane that Jack becomes the only human) it would have to re-tool itself again, and it’s not going to (shouldn’t!) do that.
The problems 30 Rock has had in developing the non Liz/Jack characters (if you see them as problems; I do, but not everyone needs to) may be exacerbated by something that’s inherent in the modern single-camera filming setup. Namely, a lot of the actors don’t spend a whole lot of time working together. One-camera film isn’t usually about forming an ensemble, unless the director has enough clout to demand a lot of advance rehearsal. Scenes are shot in bits and pieces, which is great if you’re looking to get big-name guest stars — who can work one day on an episode, instead of being there for the whole week — but not great if the writers are trying to pick up clues about which characters work best together, or learn new things about the characters from their interactions on the set. One reason Jack and Liz have the best relationship on the show may simply be that they have frequent scenes together, really on the set at the same time interacting, in every episode.
The Office has formed a genuine ensemble where any character can get a laugh, and I don’t think that’s unrelated to the fact that due to the documentary format, the show actually requires the cast to be on the set together more than most such shows. (The Office people can’t even leave the set during other people’s scenes, because they have to be at their desks in the background; only the writer-actors, who sit in the back, get to skip scenes.) As it is, Liz and Jack are not merely the only great characters, but the only ones who have genuine chemistry. On a great ensemble show, in the words of the producers of NewsRadio, “every character had a different relationship with every other character.” 30 Rock has one great relationship, a few decent ones, and that’s enough for a good show. Great, maybe not.
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, September 21, 2009 at 5:20 PM - 6 Comments
Well, there isn’t a lot to say about them, since they mostly gave the awards to the same people as last year. I keep thinking that the Emmys’ preference for Mad Men and especially 30 Rock signifies a certain preference for hard-hearted coldness on the part of the Emmy voters. For some, Mad Men is easier to admire than to love, and encourages a certain amount of audience distance from the subject, characters and time period (though there’s a very valid counter-argument that the distancing effects don’t actually preclude emotional involvement, they just make us look at the issues in a more clear-eyed way). And 30 Rock is sort of a technocratic comedy, where the joke writing is on a high level, but almost every character is a cartoonish lunatic. The closest thing the show has to a human being is Jack, who — and I’m sorry for repeating myself — has become the show’s straight man and voice of sanity as Liz has become a complete psycho. Its lack of mainstream success is no more surprising than that of Arrested Development, another extremely well-crafted comedy that didn’t have a lot of characters who bore much resemblance to human beings.
I think Mad Men deserved its repeat win, 30 Rock, not so much (its inability to grow, and the fact that it’s let certain holes get bigger like the almost complete wasting of several characters/actors, suggests to me that it’s an entertaining show that peaked in its second year, and isn’t really going to get anywhere near being a great show). But taken together, we can get a sense that Emmy voters, and therefore the majority of TV industry people, don’t worry too much about the emotional temperature of a show; for a show to have a reputation for coldness or lack of charm is not a problem at the Emmys. You could say that dramas have had this going on for some years now, in that the Emmys love showy displays of pure technique like The West Wing, and rarely give the Best Drama award to a show about regular everyday human beings. In fact, by that standard, Mad Men may be more down-to-earth and relatable than most of the other recent winners. But the Emmys used to have a strong bias toward comedies with an element of charm or sentiment, which is one explanation of why Seinfeld and Arrested Development only managed one win each. (And both pulled off their wins before the characters became complete monsters.) Now 30 Rock seems destined to win every year. I don’t know if this is a sign that Emmy voters have now equalized their standards for comedy and drama, or if Emmy voters hate people more than they did a few years back.
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, June 9, 2009 at 2:01 PM - 2 Comments
Brian Lynch’s comparison of 30 Rock and The Muppet Show is very apropos (especially considering the Muppet appearance on a recent 30 Rock episode).
EXHIBIT B: LIZ LEMON VS. KERMIT THE FROG
Both are the most normal people on their respective shows. Both are unlucky at love. Both are neurotic worrywarts and type-a personalities who slow burn into a crazy breakdown once per episode. AND both have some kind of flirtation with the guest stars that ultimately goes nowhere. There is absolutely no difference between Liz Lemon and Kermit the Frog save for genitalia (Liz is a lady, Kermit has none).
But how sad is it that I barely remembered the existence of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and he still had more to do on The Muppet Show than his human equivalent, Scott Adsit, has to do on 30 Rock?
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 3:57 PM - 0 Comments
I think 30 Rock‘s last big meta-joke, about the fact that a “year” on TV ends when the season does (“What are you talking about? It’s May!”), is my favourite joke about the end of the regular season. The most famous is probably this one, where an episode was literally stopped in mid-story by the arrival of the summer hiatus, but like a number of jokes from Moonlighting, it maybe goes a little overboard with the fourth-wall-breaking. Though what made it famous was the moment at the end when it turns out that while everybody else is an actor on the series, “David” and “Maddie” are apparently real people who will continue having unresolved sexual tension throughout their separate vacations. That’s the sort of meta-humour that can make your head explode if you think about it too much.
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, May 15, 2009 at 1:20 PM - 1 Comment
Some Friday comedy thoughts:
- The excellent season finale of The Office didn’t have a tag (a scene before the closing credits but after the final commercial break), which was a bit disconcerting. I actually prefer the show without the tags, but I’m so used to them that I simply didn’t expect the show to be over after Pam’s Big Revelation™; I was not mentally prepared to think that that was the end. That’s why I think it helps a show to have the executive producer credit at the end, the way 30 Rock does: when you see Lorne Michaels’ credit, you know the episode is over.
- I’m still not into Parks and Recreation but the sixth episode was the best yet, and the presence of writer Norm Hiscock on the show is a good sign. (Hiscock, formerly head writer for Kids in the Hall, was hired by Greg Daniels to write many episodes of King of the Hill; after he left that show, he moved back to Canada and wrote for Corner Gas among others. I guess Daniels lured him back.) There are reviews from Televisionary and (more positively) from Myles; both agree in their own ways that the documentary format, uneasily grafted onto this show, may be holding it back. (It may be a little cursed by the fact that it grew out of NBC’s desire for an Office spinoff.)
- One advantage of 30 Rock‘s single-camera setup and cartoonish style is that it allows the writers to get away with using some of the oldest sitcom plots on record. Last night’s episode had Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, May 8, 2009 at 10:25 AM - 5 Comments
- 30 Rock really seems to have gone all the way over to making Liz the crazy person and Jack the straight man. Earlier this season I felt like they were alternating, but now I feel like Jack is the most “normal” member of the group, reacting to Liz’s insanity (“Why don’t I have any other friends?”). Last night all three stories revolved in some way around Liz being insane, screwing up, embarrassing herself, or being unable to distinguish between life and the movies. She has become the early Michael Scott, even as Michael Scott himself has become more sympathetic.
- Parks and Recreation isn’t too good so far, though NBC has already picked it up for another season and it might improve by then. I wonder if it looks worse because The Office has gotten sweeter and nicer this season? There’s still plenty of pain on The Office (it is, after all, being run by Paul Lieberstein, who specializes in the comedy of pain), but over the years the characters have grown to like each other more, and we’ve grown to like them more, to the point that an episode can end with everybody dancing and enjoying themselves and it doesn’t seem out of character. P&R is trying to be more about the pain and boredom of everyday work life, but instead of coming off as a cousin of The Office, it comes off as a very different show despite the similar format.
- My Name Is Earl does too many gimmick episodes. That’s not even a thought, just a truism.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 10:11 PM - 0 Comments
Have you noticed that a lot of shows now seem to concentrate less on coming up with catchphrases, and more on finding what might be called “catchphrases of the week?” These are lines, words, sounds that are used as a catchphrase for one episode and then dropped; they might come up again in a later episode, but only as a callback to the earlier episode.
Tonight’s 30 Rock made “Twist!” its CotW, and they seem to have a CotW about every other week, “I Want to Go To There” being the most famous (one that became so popular it almost took on full-fledged catchphrase status). South Park, which used to have real catchphrases (“Screw you guys, I’m going home!”) has dropped most of them, but has had a bunch of CotWs in the last couple of years, like the “I’m not your buddy” routine.
I think Seinfeld has to be given much of the credit for popularizing the CotW, since they were always actively trying to come up with them and actively highlighting them as CotWs, encouraging us to quote them. The good thing about a CotW, from a writing standpoint, is that it’s much easier to come up with than a long-lasting catchphrase. Most good catchphrases happen by accident (you’ve probably heard the story that Gary Coleman was given the straight line “What are you talking about?,” read it in a weird way, and a catchphrase was born), manufactured catchphrases usually sound lame. But the CotW is kind of supposed to sound lame and contrived, and that’s part of the hipster joke.
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, February 25, 2009 at 12:52 PM - 7 Comments
Just to follow up on my last post with the most pointless YouTube video ever, here’s what I think 30 Rock might be like if it were taken over by new producers and re-tooled (including a more Urkel-like emphasis on Kenneth). The video mostly has clips from two episodes, “Sandwich Day” and the second season finale; if I’d gone through every episode I probably could have found more appropriate clips — what this kind of sequence really needs, apart from the Jesse Frederick theme song, is a scene where the whole cast goes on some outing and has fun together — but I didn’t wanna.
By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 1:09 PM - 6 Comments
I was trying to figure out who the character of Liz Lemon on 30 Rock reminded me of, and it finally occurred to me after I was sent a link to this collection of half-hour TV scripts in PDF form, and saw this on the second page of the pilot for Caroline in the City:
Caroline Brody – Mid-’30s, very real and much more attractive than she believes herself to be. She’s a successful cartoonist, and her Cartoon Caroline will serve as her alter ego throughout the series.
A neurotic single woman in her mid-’30s who is a successful [cartoonist/comedy writer] in New York City and is “much more attractive than she believes herself to be” — dear Lord, Liz Lemon reminds me of Caroline (whose last name was changed in the series).
Actually, 30 Rock does resemble a late ’90s NBC comedy in some ways; the premise, lead character and some of the story ideas do feel like throwbacks to the era of Suddenly Susan. The difference is in the execution, not just the single-camera format and cutaways, but the fact that the lead character’s neurosis and pathetic qualities, instead of being played down or made to seem lovable, are played up. Liz is the craziest, most malajusted person on her own show. It’s like the writers have taken the old NBC comedy format and drained all the cuteness out of it, until all that’s left are a bunch of weird people doing weird — but funny — things.
Speaking of Caroline in the City, there’s a season 2 DVD coming out sometime (but from CBS/Paramount, so music cuts galore!). It was not actually as bad as the second wave of post-Friends NBC comedies, like The Single Guy; but it was pretty weak, mostly because of the casting. The decision to cast the show from top to bottom with young, good-looking people, instead of having at least one person who was older, weirder-looking or funnier, was a sign of how corrosive the influence of Friends had become. (There was no room for an Alec Baldwin or a Jack McBrayer on the NBC of 1996.) But while the cast was bland, it wasn’t that bad, just mediocre — but as this MAD TV sketch reminds us, it was probably one of the most-mocked shows of the decade:
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, December 5, 2008 at 4:28 PM - 4 Comments
Speaking of last night’s 30 Rock, the B story, while lame (and there are few things lamer than a weak B story attached to a strong episode), did offer a cute bit of meta-humour about the show. Tracy and Jenna’s jealousy of Kenneth, who is more popular and getting bigger laughs from the elevator crowd than they are, was an obvious reference to the fact that Jack McBrayer’s character is more popular than these two higher-billed actors. He’s practically the Urkel of 30 Rock. So to comment on this issue without actually breaking the fourth wall, the show set up a parallel situation. We can choose to see it as a reference to the show, but the characters remain unaware that they’re on TV.
By Jaime Weinman - Friday, December 5, 2008 at 1:15 PM - 8 Comments
I just want to say that last night’s 30 Rock offered my favourite new catchphrase in many moons (and several suns): when offered the chance to go to a place that features some sort of yummy treat, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) replies: “I want to go to there!” It doesn’t work on paper without Fey’s robotic delivery, like she’s so carried away by the thought of free eats that she can’t control her choice of words, but trust me, it was the best part of a very good episode.
Don’t worry, I won’t over-analyze what makes the line funny; I’ll just say that one of the great joys of comedy is that the difference between a hilarious line and a very commonplace line can be just one two-letter word. (“I want to go there” — not funny. “I want to go to there” — funny, and not only that, but funny for about three reasons at once.) It’s like that line from Casablanca, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.” Nobody would remember that line if Claude Rains had said “shocked” only once. In comedy writing, monosyllables are your friend.
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, November 18, 2008 at 5:29 PM - 13 Comments
After I posted last week about 30 Rock‘s Night Court semi-reunion, I was asked by a couple of people whether Kenneth was right when he said that that show was supposed to end with Harry and Christine getting married, but didn’t because there wasn’t a tenth season (due to the shark-jumping performance of Jenna as were-lawyer Sparky Monroe). I should be embarrassed to be able to answer this, but I’m not. So for all of us who still think it’s awesome that Reinhold Weege and Linwood Boomer had their names on a show at the same time, here’s a chronology of one of the most complete and total creative collapses ever undergone by a good, Emmy-winning show.
(For those who aren’t into this chronology, I’ll use this as an excuse for a question: what is, in your opinion, the worst decline a show has ever undergone — what show went from truly great to truly terrible? I might nominate The Simpsons, one of the greatest shows of all time in its prime, and — based on a viewing of the season 11 DVDs — a genuinely awful show in the mid-point of Mike Scully era. I’m serious. Step By Step had better scripts at that point.)
Chronology of the Decline and Fall of Kenneth The Page’s Favourite Show, Written By Someone Who Watched Nearly Every Episode in the Late ’80s and Early ’90s And Won’t Apologize For It
1989 (after the 6th season): Reinhold Weege, creator and showrunner (formerly a writer-producer on Barney Miller who imported guest stars and even entire Barney Miller plots to the new show), abruptly quits the show Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 4:45 PM - 4 Comments
My Night Court nostalgia seems to be spreading. Tonight’s episode of 30 Rock will have a subplot where Tracy tries to cheer Kenneth up by inviting cast members from Night Court to pay him a visit. (The episode is even called “The One With the Cast of Night Court.”) But the cast listing suggests that only three cast members will actually be in the episode: Harry Anderson, Markie Post, Charles Robinson. Why they couldn’t get John Larroquette when he was on Chuck just recently, I don’t know. Though the fact that Richard Moll isn’t there probably just adds to the urban legend that he didn’t get along with his castmates.
Ah, well, at least some of them will be there to meet Liz Lemon. And why not? They already met Kramer.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, September 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM - 0 Comments
The star of ‘30 Rock’ has turned that infamous phone call into an opportunity to create a kinder, gentler image
Alec Baldwin is the world’s most adorable selfish monomaniac—at least on television. Off-screen, he’s saner but less lovable, and he’s hoping to change that. Last year, it looked like his less-than-beloved off-screen persona might overshadow his onscreen career in a Michael Richards type of way: everybody with an Internet connection or a radio heard the instantly legendary tape of a voice mail he left for his 11-year-old daughter, Ireland, in which he called her “a rude, thoughtless little pig” for not answering his phone calls. Instead, he’s a newly successful actor who just won an Emmy for 30 Rock, a show whose low ratings haven’t stopped it from being picked up for a third season (premiering on Oct. 30). He’s even turned pig-gate into an opportunity to create a kinder, gentler public image: he gave a humble and uncontroversial Emmy acceptance speech, a New Yorker profile tried to make us sympathize with the pressure he’s been under, and he has a new book out, A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Fatherhood and Divorce, in which he shares his pain over his much-publicized custody battle with Ireland’s mother, actress and former Batman girlfriend Kim Basinger. The book’s villains include Basinger, a female judge (“with her customary lack of insight into parental alienation”), a female lawyer (“dressed in a garish, Dolly Levi hat”), a female therapist (“like most of the other drones inside the system”), plus the people from TMZ.com who posted that voice-mail message in the first place. On television, in movies, in magazines, and now in books, Alec Baldwin wants us to know that he rants and raves because he has a heart of gold, just like that guy he plays on TV.
We’re all so used to the image of Alec Baldwin as a big, intense, growly voiced man saying horrible things at top speed that it’s almost shocking to remember how many years he spent as a more or less conventional leading man. He was the first person to play Tom Clancy’s all-American hero Jack Ryan (in The Hunt for Red October). But when it came time to make the next Jack Ryan movie, Patriot Games, the part was recast with Harrison Ford. Baldwin claimed that this was because he chose to do a Broadway revival of A Streetcar Named Desire instead, but since the studio only got Baldwin in the first place after Ford turned them down, they probably weren’t too depressed. After that, he seemed to squander his early promise by starring in movies like The Shadow, about a nearly forgotten radio character whose main ability was to make himself invisible (because nothing makes a star like not being seen), or his self-directed remake of The Devil and Daniel Webster with Jennifer Love Hewitt as the devil; Hewitt called him “the best director I’ve ever worked with,” and she works with luminaries of the cinematic art every single week on Ghost Whisperer. But the movie wasn’t released until three years after it was made. By the early part of this decade, Baldwin was known not so much as an actor as part of an acting family; he and his brothers, Stephen, Daniel and William, were like taller versions of the Estevez brothers. Yes, he had that one scene in Glengarry Glen Ross, giving a motivational pep talk that consisted entirely of threats, insults and swear words. But that was only one scene. As an actor, he was that guy who did the one good scene, made a lot of flop movies and hosted Saturday Night Live almost as often as Tom Hanks. But that was before Jack Donaghy.
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, September 18, 2008 at 8:35 PM - 0 Comments
NBC officially confirmed that Oprah Winfrey will be the guest star on the second episode of the third season of 30 Rock. Will she be to 30 Rock what Britney Spears was to How I Met Your Mother — the blatant, unashamed stunt casting that finally gets people to watch? Maybe not, since the last time she appeared on a sitcom was “Bette,” and we know how that turned out. (Or would, if we’d ever watched it in the first place.) It’s still a better casting coup than Jerry Seinfeld last season, because she’s more popular and isn’t coming on to plug Bee Movie.
Maybe she’ll dance to one of her old theme songs, the way Carlton Banks did.