Kneel before Fey! "30 Rock" returns tonight!
After the jump, I have pasted in my column about the show from Sunday's Beacon Journal since you may not have found it online. The one thing I may have understated is how very, very funny the show is tonight and next week. (Two episodes were sent for preview.) And the funny is spread around, dealing not only with Jack's return to NBC but Liz's attempts to adopt, a renewed rivalry between Tracy and Jenna and a great Liz-Jack scene near episode's end. Then, next week, Oprah!
Anyway, to the jump.
30 Rock had a splendid roll at the Emmys not long ago, winning seven awards in all, including prizes for best comedy, comedy actor (Alec Baldwin), comedy actress (Tina Fey) and writing (also Fey). Fey alone scored an Emmy hat trick, since she gets a best-comedy prize as one of the show's executive producers.
But those awards were handed out a month ago. Some TV shows had begun their new TV seasons by then, and still more have launched their seasons since. Yet 30 Rock has been held back until this Thursday at 9:30 p.m.
The reason has nothing to do with production delays. New episodes have been ready for weeks and Fey had enough free time to make some hilarious appearances as vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live.
Nor does it have to do with some feared drop in quality. I have seen the first two episodes of the new season and they also are hilarious.
30 Rock began as a seemingly straightforward account of life behind the scenes at a network comedy-variety show. But it now uses its setting as a springboard into pokes at modern business, political satire, eccentric behavior and just plain nuttiness. In the season opener, for example, Fey's character Liz Lemon laments that her new boss ‘‘doesn't even care when we should have cake for people whose birthdays are on the weekend.’’
Liz's old boss, Jack Donaghy (Baldwin), of course knows cake etiquette. And the season opener is largely devoted to resolving the plot twists from the end of last season, where Jack had been pushed out of his job and had gone to work in Washington, D.C. It's nicely done, but the second episode, airing Nov. 6, is even more delightfully loony, thanks to the way guest star Oprah Winfrey is put to use.
So, if the show is acclaimed, and still good, and ready for air, then why has it taken so long to get it back? Because NBC still thinks of 30 Rock as fragile.
As the New York Times recently noted, the show is ‘‘ratings-challenged,’’ with a relatively small audience of about 6.5 million viewers a week last season.
It is up against a couple of behemoths. CBS' CSI: Crime Scene Investigation drew 23.5 million viewers for its season premiere a few weeks ago. Grey's Anatomy trails CSI at this writing but still has about twice the usual audience for 30 Rock.
By holding 30 Rock late, NBC pushed the show past the season premieres of its competitors so that interest in their return had a chance to cool somewhat. But it may have squandered an opportunity in not taking advantage of the attention turned to Fey in the wake of the Emmys and her Palin parodies. And that would be a shame, since 30 Rock richly deserves an audience equivalent to its quality and acclaim.