30 Rock Provides Pop Culture Punch In Dreary TV Landscape

Jokes made at the expense of various pop culture figures and moments during a certain period of time are nothing new. It’s always fun to poke fun at things that the majority of people know about. Especially at the time these pop culture icons and moments occur. There is, of course, the big possibility that most of these same pop culture jokes become less funny as time goes by and the memories of those who lived during that time fade away. In addition, new generations might not be as willing to seek out old pop culture moments. They might just laugh and move on, without knowing why they are really laughing.

Pop culture jokes in television shows are like “inside jokes” between two people. There is at least one moment or conversation in your life that becomes funnier over time for the people involved. If you try to explain that moment or conversation to someone who “wasn’t there”, there’s a good chance they won’t find it as funny. They might give it chuckle, because they know they SHOULD laugh, but they might never understand why they should hysterically laugh like the people involved.

Many people consider Seinfeld to be the greatest television comedy of all time, and that show was about “nothing” but everyday life issues that the majority of people watching it could relate. Yet at the same time, many jokes on Seinfeld often had to do with families, jobs, personal relationships, and making fun of other people and things. This was especially true of the various pop culture references littered throughout the run of Seinfeld. An entire episode was devoted to characters falling asleep, while watching the 1995 film, The English Patient. Those that have watched that movie know why that running joke is funny, but over time as less people watch that movie, the joke gets less and less funny. It’s still a funny episode of Seinfeld, but it’s not one of the funniest.

There have been other television comedies that have featured “pop culture” jokes like Seinfeld, but perhaps no show has effectively done this better more than NBC’s 30 Rock. It seems like in every other episode of 30 Rock they are making fun of something or somebody. More times than not, all of those jokes are consistently funny. It could also be argued that those jokes are perhaps the main reason why 30 Rock fans keep coming back week after week.

But in recent weeks it seems that NBC has given 30 Rock the green light to go crazy with pop culture references with no boundaries. If you think about it, you could probably think of only a handful of times where you would be watching a particular show on one major network, and hear the actors and characters mention another show that airs on a competing major network. To be honest I can’t think of any instances off of the top of my head, except for what 30 Rock has done in the past 2 or 3 episodes.

It’s one thing to reference a popular ABC series like Lost, which 30 Rock has done countless times before, including this coversation:

Jenna: “So, this all started when their plane crashed?”

Twofer: “No, that’s Lost.”

Jenna: “Oh, right. You know, I met JJ Abrams once. And I don’t know what this means, but he said the Island is just Hurley’s dream.”

Or what about when Jerry Seinfeld guest-starred on the show, and the head of NBC wishes to digitally put Jerry in every NBC show for a week. After Jerry disagrees with the idea, Jack (Alec Baldwin) gives him the choice of what TV shows he would like to be in, to which Jerry replies “I like Lost. Is that you guys?”

Lost has certainly created a life of its own, and is definitely THE “water cooler/random stranger” show to discuss these days. So any references to that show is not that surprising. But it’s another thing to reference a show like Survivor that airs on CBS the SAME night as 30 Rock on NBC, when those shows could potentially go head-to-head with each other if NBC or CBS decided to move either show into the same timeslot.

I have to not be the only person who was surprised a couple of weeks back on the “Don Geiss, America and Hope” episode of 30 Rock that heard Alec Baldwin, portraying the character of Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock, explain why he considers Boston to be the best city in the world by saying “Boston is the greatest city in the world. Boston Tea Party, Boston Cream Pie, Boston, Boston Rob Mariano.” You couldn’t help but laugh at that ridiculous reasoning, because you know Jack believes it. Of course, there is a chance that joke flew over the heads of part of the 30 Rock audience. It helps that “Boston” Rob Mariano is one of Survivor‘s most colorful personalities, and made his return to Survivor on the current “Heroes vs. Villains” season. Still that line could be considered an advertisement for CBS’ Survivor, especially if 30 Rock fans who didn’t know who Boston Rob was did some research to find out.

Now I don’t believe that any pop culture joke in a television show or movie is anything more than a timely joke to get big laughs. Will that line lead to more viewers for Survivor? I don’t think so for one minute. Survivor has been on the air for 10 years now, and if you don’t like the show now, you probably won’t ever like the show. But the point is that NBC has given 30 Rock free range to joke about anything and everything now, including referencing other shows. We already know they have no problems with them joking about NBC themselves. This obviously now means that 30 Rock writers can write jokes about any show or movie, whether that show or movie is owned by NBC’s parent company, Universal, or not.

This is not to say that all of the pop culture references on 30 Rock will be good for the show in the long term. In fact, it could definitely affect its popularity in syndication, since some of these specific and extremely timely jokes won’t be as easily remembered as more general pop culture jokes that have withstood the test of time. But that is another debate for another time, though.

Ten years from now there will probably be another show that pushes boundaries and throws in witty pop culture references at almost every turn. It will be tough to top 30 Rock, though. There are many reasons why 30 Rock is the two-time reigning Emmy Award winning “Best Comedy”. You have to believe that at the top of that list is the many pop culture jokes. You not only have to give the 30 Rock writers credit for coming up with funny lines and jokes, but you also have to give NBC credit for letting them do whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t overstep the blatant network censorship lines. Now if only more people were watching 30 Rock to laugh at all of those pop culture jokes.

30 Rock airs at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on NBC in the US and Citytv in Canada.