30 Rock took product placement to a whole new level when it aired its reunion special on July 16. The hour-long episode doubled as an upfront event to preview NBCUniversal’s content for the 2020-2021 television season and garnered some backlash on social media because of it. That’s not to say everyone was disappointed, however. The tweets about the 30 Rock reunion special was a mixed bag of fans high-fiving a million angels and others expressing nerd rage.
The 30 Rock reunion featured performances from much of the original cast, including Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan, Jane Krakowski, and Jack McBrayer. The special felt very timely; the cast filmed virtually through a series of Zoom calls and side plots with professional-grade production value due to coronavirus social distancing guidelines, and the opening scene of the special showed Liz Lemon (Fey) accosting a mask-less man in New York.
In the special, Liz was asked to find a replacement for Jenna Maroney (Krakowski) for a potential TGS reunion, since Maroney experienced PR troubles after "pooping in Mandy Moore’s thermos." The episode revealed that since the show’s 2013 end, Kenneth (McBrayer) had become the head of NBC, Jack (Baldwin) had been enjoying retirement, and Tracey (Morgan) was hanging out in Canada. In the end, Kenneth asked Liz to write for one of his upcoming shows, which served as a full-circle end to the episode.
Despite bringing back a wide range of superstars for the episode, NBC received its fair share of criticism for serving as an "upfront" for NBC’s upcoming television season. ICYMI, upfronts are live presentations television channels host to provide a rundown of the upcoming programming to get advertisers, networks, and critics excited about what’s to come. The promotional nature of the episode wasn’t lost on viewers, as ad after ad for upcoming shows were integrated into the episode.
While it’s been public knowledge for some time that the 30 Rock reunion would serve as an NBC upfront, news that several NBC affiliates wouldn’t air the episode, reportedly due to its promotional nature, was a shock to many. Deadline explained these affiliates weren’t exactly keen on airing an hour-long, ad-spend-free promotion of NBCU’s cable networks and streaming service on their channels. For fans who don’t keep up with the business side of TV (aka, most of the country’s television-watchers) were in for a shock when they tuned into their NBC channel only to find they couldn’t watch the reunion special.
Despite the ad-heavy nature of the 30 Rock reunion, fans who did get to watch the show were still delighted to see the cast reunite seven years after the series finale. Plus, some viewers noted that since 30 Rock already was a meta-commentary on NBC’s behind-the-scenes shenanigans anyway, it wasn’t too far of a reach that the episode turned into a playful nod at NBC’s promotional tactics.
If nothing else, seeing the cast return as their hilarious characters pleased many who tuned in.
The 30 Rock reunion special is available to stream on Peacock.
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