30 Rock: More Like 30 Rocky Balboa

Rocky is generally considered one of the greatest underdog stories of all time. Nothing against the five sequels, but the original film from 1976 definitely stands out from the rest. The movie went on to win Best Picture, become a staple of pop culture, and the hero isn’t currently being accused of running a Ponzi scheme (I’m looking at you, Rudy).

But one thing that people often forget when discussing the film is {spoiler alert} Rocky doesn’t win the fight at the end. He loses on a split decision, and it’s Apollo Creed who raises his fist in jubilant victory. But we all know that’s not the point. Rocky didn’t have to beat Creed to win us over; he didn’t even necessarily want to beat Creed. He simply wanted to go the distance.

With that in mind, something becomes blatantly obvious: 30 Rock is the greatest underdog story since Rocky.

This past Sunday, Tina Fey pleaded, “Our finale is on this Thursday at 8. Up against ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ so just tape ‘The Big Bang Theory’ for once, for crying out loud!” TBBT—or possibly Chuck Lorre’s body of work as a whole—is currently television’s Apollo Creed. And that’s not an insult; Creed was one helluva boxer.

The Big Bang Theory is currently averaging over 18 million viewers per episode. 30 Rock, on the other hand, is averaging just around 3.5 million. It’s not a problem that TBBT has more viewers, but it’s the staggering difference in number of viewers that is so shocking to me.

For whatever reason, 30 Rock could not find a big audience. My girlfriend says the jokes are too intelligent and come too fast—almost one immediately after the other—that sometimes even she gets lost. Plus, there is no laugh track to let the audience know, “Hey, that was a joke. It’s okay to laugh now.” (Side note: You can throw out the “Filmed in front of a live, studio audience” line all you want; if there is laughter on the broadcast, it’s a goddamn laugh track.) I admire Tina’s playfulness with their lack of viewers (in addition to their consistent ribbing of NBC’s across-the-board low viewership). One of my favorite lines of the series was when Liz, in reference to her show-within-the-show TGS, said, “We’re the show that TV Guide once described as ‘still on.’” This is 30 Rock in one sentence. Every year we had to pray the show would be renewed. Every. Single. Year.

Yet, despite the lack of viewers and the constant threat of cancelation, 30 Rock—just like Rocky—went the distance. Think of all the shows that don’t even make it through one full season; it makes you admire 30 Rock’s body of work even more. Now, who knows what sort of blackmail or witchcraft was required to make this happen. But we shouldn’t concern ourselves with such minute details, and instead just be thrilled that it happened.

In the end, I leave you with my favorite scene from 30 Rock. From Alec Baldwin’s so-small-it’s-huge acting to Tina’s commentary on current television trends; just an all-around genius moment. And pay attention to Tina’s gesture at the very end, for after tonight’s finale, we should all engage in such an expression. For we know that 30 Rock gave us the ride of a lifetime, and while we may not have come out on top, at least we went the distance. Lemon out, Nerds!

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