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Old 07-15-2020, 11:50 PM   #4
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30 Rock's reunion special will serve as a "commercial for commercials"

Throughout 30 Rock's run, the NBC comedy mocked brands while taking their product placement money, from Snapple to Verizon to Kraft. "Advertisers seemed happy to keep feeding the mouth that bit them," says Brian Steinberg. He adds: "A decade later, NBC is betting marketers will take heed of the program once again – with one notable difference. In its original run. 30 Rock was an NBC show that helped call attention to a wide array of commercial messages. On Thursday night, 30 Rock will serve as a commercial message for a wide array of different NBC-affiliated shows...The show represents a bid by NBC and its corporate owner Comcast to jump-start what has been characterized as a moribund session of the annual talks held each year between advertisers and the TV networks to sell the bulk of commercial time for the fall season. With the coronavirus pandemic forcing cutbacks in consumer spending, travel, and movie production, some groups of advertisers aren’t exactly feeling the need to let loose of their purse strings. Indeed, many are calling for the industry’s annual upfront to be scuttled entirely in favor of a new system. NBC intends to air the special without commercials, even as it hopes to prove to would-be sponsors the value of running ads in its programs. But 30 Rock will also serve as a commercial for commercials. NBC plans to use the special to highlight new types of advertising formats it wants to sell to its clients, like commercials that augment the programs to which viewers originally tuned by using content, hallmarks and even actors from the series."

Tina Fey: "The world of 30 Rock always blended commerce and comedy"

“When NBC asked us to write if we could write a reunion episode, to pinch hit for the upfronts this year so they could happen, it made sense to us because the world of 30 Rock always blended commerce and comedy,” Fey said of tonight's 30 Rock: A One Time-Special, which doubles as an upfront presentation for NBC Universal. “I would say we have a level of understanding of marketing and advertising that matches the level of medical knowledge that people have on doctors shows.” Fey added that “everything came together very quickly” and “everyone was very willing to jump right in." While most of the special was filmed remotely, Fey did shoot some scenes outside with a small crew that was tested for coronavirus. “It was very special and very heartwarming to be able to do what we used to do and to be safe doing it. I look forward to these baby steps for other people being able to get back to work soon,” she said. Meanwhile, Jake Krakowsky said the cast had to get used to filming remotely. "There was a big learning curve in terms of how we were going to make a quarantine episode," said Krakowski. "We all had to film everything according to regulations."

  • NBC's 30 Rock debacle is exactly what Tina Fey deserves: That tonight's special won't air on most NBC affiliates is somewhat of a comeuppance for Fey's professional sins, says Meghan O'Keefe. "As 30 Rock returns for a ridiculous corporate stunt, it’s worth noting that the show always mocked such craven displays of artistic talent cowering for their corporate overlords," says O'Keefe. "Fey’s involvement in this twist on the corporate upfront is almost the completion of 30 Rock. The fact that most viewers won’t be able to see this meta mugging from 30 Rock‘s stars because of corporate pettiness is absolutely perfect. Fey has always been committed to the punchline, no matter how brutal. Now 30 Rock, Fey’s baby, is seeing this devotion through to its most ridiculous end. The 30 Rock special tonight — and the affiliate blackout it has inspired — are an ironic tribute to Fey. Mean, petty, absurd, and satiric to the extreme, this whole situation fits Fey’s legacy to a tee."
  • Over time, 30 Rock became something like NBC’s ombudsman, or maybe its court jester: The Tina Fey comedy was a "neutral third party given carte blanche to bring inside baseball into the outside world," says Alison Herman. "It’s been sorely missed in the seven years it’s been off the air, as the sense we’re living inside an extended episode has creeped ever further outside midtown Manhattan. This year’s Macy’s fireworks display—presented by NBC!—featured 'unannounced displays' around a city already shaken by illness and widespread demonstrations, recalling the time when Jack accidentally re-created 9/11 with colorful explosives. John Slattery’s congressional candidate Steven Austin anticipated other incoherent populists bankrolled by elite interests. And what else is Quibi if not a giant joke at the expense of executives who spend billions chasing an audience they don’t understand?"
  • How to watch 30 Rock: A One-Time Special if your affiliate isn't showing it: Only 12 NBC-owned stations will show the 30 Rock reunion. The special will also air on NBC Universal cable networks (USA, Syfy, Bravo, Oxygen, E! and CNBC) and stream on Hulu and starting Friday.

30 Rock's reunion special to promote NBC Universal couldn't overcome the stink of it all

"Hoping we’re either as dumb as we look or not as smart as we seem, NBCUniversal tried to pawn off an hour-long advertising selfie disguised as synergized entertainment on its prime time network Thursday night — a pitch for a (so far hypothetical) 2020-21 TV season, disguised as a 30 Rock reunion," says Hank Stuever of 30 Rock: A One Time Special. "Sentient viewers are so inured to advertising that it apparently only works now if you pretend to be cynical about the entire industry — an inside joke about an inside joke, in which the joke was really on anyone hoping for a satisfying hour with our old friends who used to produce and star in TGS, the comedy sketch show at the center of 30 Rock, which, you’ll recall, was itself already a spoof of working at NBC in an environment like Saturday Night Live.” But Stuever adds: "30 Rock’s sardonic skills in the meta department couldn’t overcome the corporate stink of it all, even with such winking-at-the-camera lines as Baldwin saying, 'Thank God advertisers are some of the smartest and most physically attractive people this industry has ever seen.' Wash your hands all you want (and wash them you should!), it just won’t come off...The existential crisis rages on from there: What did we just watch? What is television? What isn’t? And most of all: If NBCUniversal achieves perfect viewer/advertiser singularity, what are they going to do us next?"

  • Getting Tina Fey to shill for you with utter abandon also feels like it’s at odds with the spirit of 30 Rock: "With its previous product placement—not all of which was as successful as the Snapple and Verizon bits—30 Rock was so blatantly insincere that it still came across as authentic," says Willa Paskin. "There was something brilliantly adolescent (or is this where I should invoke Gen X?) about its approach: It found a loophole even while complying with the letter of the law, doing what the corporate overlords asked with so much enthusiasm that advertisers couldn’t really take issue with it, but no one watching could take it seriously. The special found a hint of this in Alec Baldwin’s early line readings, but it faded fast. Where there had once been toothless rebellion, now there was eager compliance—even if the show had trained me to see insincerity floating in the air, like the afterimage from decade-old flash." Paskin adds that "in some ways the most modern of TV shows—funny and fleet and lightning fast—is already an artifact of a much less earnest time, when puncturing all sides wasn’t its own kind of opinion (also a time when you could have your sheet cake and eat it, without being accused of myopic white feminism). With the special, 30 Rock finally committed to something other than joke, and that something was its corporate overlord. A pretty dark joke indeed."
  • It seems Tina Fey and her writers weren't given nearly as much latitude for self-referential corporate mockery: "The meta jabs were far outnumbered by clumsy, box-ticking setups for one of NBCU's many corporate arms," says Kristen Baldwin, adding that "this wasn't an episode of 30 Rock, or even an episode of anything. It was a 60-minute sales pitch lumbering around inside the husk of an Emmy- and Peabody Award-winning sitcom. Toward the end of the hour, the TGS gang Zoom-bombs Kenneth's presentation to advertisers, and he is livid."
  • 30 Rock reunion was funny, even as a blatant commercial: "In between the new 30 Rock material peddling NBCUniversal’s wares, there were back-to-back commercials for NBCUniversal properties, sneak peeks for upcoming originals and somber montages about the power of NBC’s commitment to news, the Olympics and Peacock #content (the vast majority of which pulls from the history of NBC for its content library rather than points toward its future as a possible originals player.)," says Willa Paskin. 'If you’ve ever attended an upfront presentation, in which networks make their splashiest pitches for advertisers by putting forward their most impressive slate of talent, it would have felt very familiar. If you’re a 30 Rock fan who tuned in to see a 30 Rock reunion special, it would have felt both very strange and…well, kind of familiar."
  • 30 Rock reunion was one long lame, sorta funny, occasionally brilliant Peacock ad: "It’s a strange thing to judge," says Kevin Fallon. "It’s utterly bizarre as primetime television; there’s a reason Upfronts aren’t typically broadcast like this. But, in the grand scheme of Upfronts, it was kind of fantastic. Whoo-ee have there been cringey attempts at entertainment at these things. But here was a 30 Rock reunion! With the whole cast! And crackling 30 Rock jokes! It might be the best Upfronts content there’s ever been. So why not air it on television? Sure it might play as nonsensical to some and excruciatingly boring to many. But if you found out that there was a scripted 30 Rock reunion but it only played to a roomful of advertisers and media folk, wouldn’t you be annoyed? Especially if you were a fan of the show, wouldn’t you want to find a way to watch it? The problem here is that no matter how many times they specified that this was part of the company’s Upfronts, by airing on primetime it was still somehow missing that context."

With limited available viewership, 30 Rock reunion delivers a small audience

About 2.5 million watched the one-hour reunion special that doubled as an NBC Universal upfronts presentation. Because of that, the special wasn't shown on NBC stations owned by Gray Television, Hearst, Nexstar, Tegna and Sinclair Broadcasting Group.

30 Rock: A One-Time Special exposed everything that's wrong with TV right now

The one-hour reunion special that also served to promote NBC Universal programming and the launch of the Peacock streaming service was not only bad, it was excruciating, says Sonia Saraiya. "30 Rock, in its heyday, skewered its parent company’s self-mythologizing, its multiple subsidiaries, its desperate efforts to make hay out of corporate synergy," says Saraiya. "In this zombie reunion special, all of 30 Rock’s charm and wit was devoted to cohering NBCUniversal’s brand identity into some kind of shared 'universe,' despite offerings that include professional wrestling, TV news, the Olympics, The Office, the Real Housewives franchise, several Law & Order spinoffs, and Gwen Stefani. Here is the great promise of TV in 2020: A packet of disparate forms of distraction, bound together by sizzle reels, the reanimated corpses of characters you once cared for, and vague promises of the healing power of live sports. Slate’s Sam Adams tweeted that the special 'feels like a funeral for television,' and that rang true for me, too. It wasn’t just the depressing conflation of scripted TV and literal advertisement, though that didn’t help. The corporate synergy on display also emphasized how the actual quality of what we watch has diminished even as the quantity of available programming has ballooned past reckoning. Last year, I wrote about how our attention has become so profitable that media giants are spending billions to silo us into their particular streaming platform. (On Thursday night), NBCUniversal’s ad-episode-sizzle felt like the literal embodiment of the attention economy’s race to the bottom. If the conglomerate’s individual programs have any power or significance—and Khlo Kardashian’s humorless cameo in the middle of the special was a reminder that that’s a big if — it was diluted or glossed or spun into a montage that funneled into our eyeballs and earholes coated with syrupy, disingenuous schmaltz. This Is Us? This is yikes."

  • The 30 Rock special sure felt like a zombie version of the show made to fill time between ads for NBCUniversal content: "Admittedly, the hourlong special was billed from the start as an upfront — a presentation of upcoming programming (and services, like the just-launched Peacock) aimed at advertisers," says Inkoo Kang. "But no amount of fourth wall-breaking or celebrity guest stars could disguise the fact that this was essentially a gussied-up Powerpoint presentation for a global entertainment conglomerate." Kang adds: "Overall, though, (Tina) Fey and her writing partner Robert Carlock were clearly loath to develop the characters beyond the resolutions that they'd carefully crafted for the series finale. And it didn't help that the special's storyline focused so much on NBC page turned network president Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer), who wore out his welcome several seasons into the show."
  • Like much pandemic TV, this was not something the public would ever have seen in normal times: "I watched the special twice on Thursday night, once live, once with my family, who wisely fast-forwarded through the ads," says James Poniewozik. "It played better the second way. But you could also see more sharply how the special deteriorated as it went on, as if the writers had a half-hour of material and an hour to fill. In theory, 30 Rock was the perfect brand for the job. From 2006 to 2013, it bit the hand that feeds as lustily as Liz chomps into a block of night cheese. It cast company talent in gently mocking cameos, as the special did with stars including Khlo Kardashian and Jimmy Fallon. It made comedy out of real-life corporate mandates, as in 'Greenzo,' an episode about an environmentalist mascot that came out of an actual network-wide 'Green Is Universal' programming requirement. When the show moves from biting to gently nibbling the hand that feeds, you lose a certain energy. Beyond that, the special showed that, however gut-busting 30 Rock remains in reruns, its arch, lighten-up-Francis comedy is a product of a very specific era that does not time-travel well."
  • The special was downright bizarre TV: "Even for those prepared to see Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin pushing Peacock with unprecedented sincerity, some moments in the special had to feel pretty freaking weird," says Ben Travers. "It piqued for me during what I believe was the sixth ad break, as teasers for Ellen’s sadistic game show and a water park ride/reality show played across the screen. These are exactly the kind of programs 30 Rock would make up when skewering NBC’s more popular series, and knowing that we were now being asked to take them seriously — as real shows we’re supposed to look forward to — was just too much to swallow. Could Love Island exist today? Absolutely. It always felt about five degrees removed from reality. But Liz & Co. were always making fun of it before, even when they admitted to watching."
  • 30 Rock: A One-Time Special absolutely excelled at what it is and does: "It is a perfect commercial for NBC Universal, a perfect commercial for television, and a perfect commercial for people who believe they are too cool to watch commercials but not too cool to watch television reunion specials," says LaToya Ferguson. "If you want to get pedantic about it, in some ways, 30 Rock: A One-Time Special is even more 'real' television than other 'real' television shows, because it’s completely upfront (no pun intended) about its function as a gateway to advertising—even before Kenneth Ellen Parcell’s soul literally leaves his body. While the actual advertisement for this special wasn’t as upfront, the original announcement about the special was, and as is the special itself, from start to finish."
  • Revivals are often a death knell come much too late, but this particular special was something even more disappointing and sinister: an unfunny, unnecessary advertisement

TV's quarantine comedy reunions reveal what works and what doesn't

Parks and Recreation, Community, Happy Endings and Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet offered lessons on how to succeed with comedy over Zoom. Meanwhile, 30 Rock tried to get ambitious with its virtual NBC Universal upfronts episode and mostly failed.

Last edited by TMC; 07-25-2020 at 03:29 AM.
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