As 30 Rock airs series finale tonight I ask: Was it too smart for a huge audience?
In the beginning, TV critics underestimated 30 Rock, choosing to focus instead on another TV show debuting at the same time on the same channel: Oscar-winner Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
But it turns out Fey's oddball comedy about a hapless TV producer managing a band of misfits to put on truly weird television comedy show was the concept with legs, lasting seven seasons before calling it a series with a one-hour final at 8 tonight.
Fey, as it turns out, had a relentless drive to be funny and fresh, hidden by her unassuming manner and self-deprecating humor as put-upon executive producer Liz Lemon. We underestimated a comedy legend who had already revolutionized SNL and she let us, probably because a sneak attack works better.
But 30 Rock also has a less impressive legacy: Helping create the critically acclaimed, low-viewer style of smart TV comedy which has nearly erased the legacy of NBC’s Must-See TV franchise.
Critics like me love the show’s lightning-fast pace, whip smart pop culture references and unexpected cameos (who else could welcome a list of guest stars unlikely as Elaine Stritch, Jon Bon Jovi, Condoleezza Rice and Sorkin himself?). And the industry loves them too, handing the show a raft of Emmys, Golden Globes, SAG awards, honors from the Television Critics association and a Peabody award.
But the ratings haven’t followed. Last year’s season finale drew 2.8 million people; ranked 130th out of 195 network TV shows in the 2011-12 TV season.
And there’s a line of similarly low-rated, critically-beloved NBC shows right behind them, including Community, Up All Night and the showcase for Fey’s former SNL partner-in-crime Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation.
I pulled together a piece for NPR about these ideas, which has drawn complaints from Big Bang Theory fans (because I suggested the show was a broader, "less smart" comedy) and 30 rock fans (who don't like the show getting blamed for the death of Must-See TV).
So check out my piece below and see what upsets you about it: