In the summer of 2006, Tina Fey announced her departure from Saturday Night Live after six seasons as the head-writer of the legendary late night sketch show. She had decided to pursue a new ambition, a primetime sitcom based in part on her experiences working at SNL. That show would become 30 Rock, and in its first season, Fey put herself back into the role as the head-writer for a late night sketch show, only this time around, it was a fictional character she was playingLiz Lemon. Much of the show's first season attempted to establish the cast of bizarre characters, including Jack Donaghy, the Vice President of GE, and Tracy Jordan, the borderline insane star of the fictional sketch show, TGS. The first season of 30 Rock didn't earn the ratings that Fey or co-producer Lorne Michaels might have wished for, but the new brand of offbeat humor that cleverly incorporated the current headlines did earn 30 Rock the Emmy for Best Comedy in early 2007.
[...] Unlike 30 Rock, Studio 60 takes place in Los Angeles instead of New York City, and is broadcast by the fictional NBS, instead of NBC. Fey's decision not to fictionalize the network is the first layer of self-reflexivity: we are watching a show that takes place at NBC, on NBC. An analysis of a single episode of 30 Rock will showcase the various techniques that Fey uses to bring her satirical point of view across. By undoing the layers of an episode, we can see where she makes the crossover from fantasy to reality, and back again, and how in the wake of this movement, she leaves behind not just one statement about a single issue, but a big pile of social and political commentary to be sifted through and reflected upon. [...]
[...] In the process, she exposes any part of 30 Rock's audience that also tunes into the Today show to the truth that the popular morning show is really just one long series of advertisements dressed up by public relations to be entertaining ‘news' segments. The phoniness of Greenzo's environmentally candy-coated sales pitch is highlighted in a nice performance by actual Today show host Viera, who really sells the ‘scripted-ness' of the line, “you're saving the world.” The advertisement of the GE front-loading washing machine is real in the context of the fictional show, but when it passes through the fourth wall it is transformed into a piece of vicious satire. [...]
[...] Jack's implying that Greenzo is going to “wake up on that island with Phil Donahue and the electric is an excellent example of the way that Fey likes to play with that line between reality and fantasy. Both Phil Donahue and the electric car were symbols of a pro-green trend that fizzled out in the 1990's, and both of them seemingly vanished into oblivion. Well now we know what happened to them: they were exiled to an island owned by Big Business in order to suffocate the movement. [...]
[...] Fey clearly recognizes that the breaking down of the fourth wall is a necessary element of 30 Rock if she expects to not only get her point across, but to ensure that it is taken seriously. This theory of breaking down the fourth wall in order to expose an audience to some truth can be traced back to the theatre of German playwright Bertolt Brecht and his revolutionary—you might say ‘wall-breaking' (since this is an essay about comedy)—stage theory, what became known as ‘Epic Theatre'. [...]
[...] More importantly, however, the Lazio reference implies that Fey does not underestimate the intelligence of the 30 Rock audience, or rather, she isn't afraid to assume that the audience will understand the joke—and that it is not so much a comment on Clinton's liberalism, but a knock on Lazio and his political agenda. On the way back to her office, Liz panics when she sees Kenneth the NBC page handing out pink-cupcake party invitations in the hallway. To avoid him, she ducks into the first unlocked door she can find: Tracy's dressing room. [...]
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