And yes, it is true that Alan Brady gave way to Ted Baxter who gave way to Jenna Maroney and Tracy Jordan. “30 Rock” does belong to the family tree of TV shows about TV shows, some of which are the best workplace comedies ever written – most notably the cringey “The Larry Sanders Show,” the team-spirited “Sports Night,” and the withering “The Comeback.” Also in the family: “Murphy Brown,” “Grosse Pointe,” “Home Improvement,” “Episodes,” and specific seasons of “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” None of these series were as meta-conscious about TV as “30 Rock,” though, not even “Seinfeld,” with its plot about pitching a show about nothing, or “Larry Sanders,” with its real-world guests. On “30 Rock,” even the product placements were made into a joke. A few weeks ago, Liz was actually singing the “30 Rock” theme song to herself.
But “30 Rock” just as firmly belongs alongside the “fake” news of “The Daily Show,” and the character of Jack is in the same vein as the character of Stephen Colbert. Fey is a lot like Jon Stewart, who once described his job as throwing spitballs from the back of the room. Her inspiration similarly comes from watching the real world go by with a sense of outrage and humor. From her “Saturday Night Live” years, she brought to the sitcom format an overwhelming sense of timeliness and news-hound-ness that sitcoms often avoid so as not to date episodes that will appear much later in syndication. “30 Rock” has been as close to a narrative version of “Weekend Update” as is possible. Stewart took open aim at the Comcast-NBC merger in 2011 (“This monopoly’s awesome!”), Fey went after it in her fictionalized context by creating a Comcast-like company called Kabletown.
Like “South Park,” “30 Rock” has pushed today’s culture to some of its logical extremes for comedy purposes. It has been a brilliantly cartoonish take on our world, a reflection painted in bold colors and punctuated with quick cutaways and exclamation points. Blërg!
Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.