’30 Rock’ Fans Deserve More Than an NBC Upfront-Themed Reunion

30 Rock Reunion

At first glance, NBC’s upcoming 30 Rock reunion seems like a welcome distraction from the wreck that is 2020. But it’s not just a reunion; it’s an “Upfront special event” to advertise NBCUniversal’s new programming. And it’s a prime example of the corporate synergy 30 Rock mocked during its original run.

Typically, broadcast networks host May “upfronts,” glitzy events to show off their upcoming TV shows in the hopes that advertisers will snap up commercial airtime ahead of the series’ debuts. This year, however, the COVID-19 crisis meant networks had to get creative. ABC, for example, hosted a “virtual roadshow” headlined by Jimmy Kimmel with his annual upfront roast. (“ABC in many ways was prepared for this pandemic,” he quipped. “Our shows have been social-distancing themselves from young people for years.”)

NBCUniversal also brought in the comedic big guns, announcing this 30 Rock “Upfront special” in June. “Beloved characters from the original series including Liz Lemon (Tina Fey), Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski), Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer), and more will return for the one-time event and celebrate the stories and talent featured in NBCUniversal’s 2020-21 television season,” the company said in a press release.

In that release, NBCUniversal execs made no bones about the synergy of the 30 Rock reunion. “This very special 30 Rock event will bring together video, advertising, and humor to show the world the power of One Platform in a whole new way,” raved Josh Feldman, Executive Vice President, Head of Marketing & Advertising Creative, NBCUniversal. (“One Platform,” by the way, is NBCU’s new business model, one that unifies the company’s digital and linear offerings.)

Of course, when it comes to deciding whether or not to tune in, for this entertainment journalist, I want to go to there. Of course I’ll be watching the reunion — that is, if my NBC affiliate will carry it (according to a report from Vulture, Gray Television, Hearst, Nexstar, Tegna, and Sinclair Broadcast Group are opting not to broadcast the one-hour special). Problematic episodes aside, I have fond memories of 30 Rock, probably the first sitcom that became appointment television for me.

I suppose Corporate Shill Liz Lemon is better than no Liz Lemon, and the first promo for the reunion shows promise, with Liz yelling at a maskless pedestrian and Jack virtually slapping her from afar with his iPhone 40.

But I also feel wronged by the conceit. I want to see previews of upcoming shows on NBC and sister outlets Telemundo, USA, Syfy, E!, Bravo and more. I also want a 30 Rock reunion. I don’t really want both at the same time. I imagine Tina Fey and Robert Carlock will include a lot of self-aware humor, poking fun at the reunion’s purpose. But I also imagine much of the plot will serve to tee up each preview.

I didn’t love the Parks and Recreation reunion that aired on NBC in April—I wish it had spent more time with our beloved Pawnee civil servants instead of shoehorning in so many callback jokes and guest stars. But I did appreciate its message and its charitable goal as a fundraiser for Feeding America’s COVID-19 Response Fund. As Metacritic notes, the 30 Rock special is raising funds, too—but for NBC.

Fans deserve more—namely, a standalone 30 Rock reunion that satirizes our current political and socioeconomic climate, instead of one that serves capitalist motives. Until then, we’ll just be living in Kabletown.

30 Rock: A One-Time Special, Thursday, July 16, 8/7c, NBC (Note: Not all NBC affiliates will air the special. Check your local listings.)