The cast of “30 Rock” got back together on Thursday night, but unlike some of the higher-minded reunions mounted during the coronavirus pandemic, the stunt had an overt commercial motivation to it – serving as an infomercial for all things NBC and its new streaming service, Peacock.
Yes, the whole cast appeared – under the guise of being recruited to do a reboot of the show within the show. But the content basically felt like the kind of promotional video that actors would be enlisted to shoot for an upfront sales presentation for advertisers, which is precisely what this was, just on a national platform.
It was occasionally funny – especially the outtakes at the end, for those who stuck around – sporadically clever and more than anything, really strange.
Original network content is more scarce these days, so some viewers might be grateful just to see stars of a once-beloved show reunited. Still, a lot of those who have never sat through a network sales pitch at Rockefeller Center might have felt a trifle mystified by the relentless shilling, and the awkward transitions from the fresh material shot to the extended promotional packages.
That advertising pushed all things owned by Comcast, including its various cable and broadcast networks and Universal theme parks. All told, it was a far cry from the earlier “Parks and Recreation” special that NBC aired earlier in the pandemic, which raised money for a charitable cause.
The ostensible plot involved former page Kenneth (Jack McBrayer), now the head of the network, floating the prospect of a “TGS” revival. McBrayer played himself and his assistant in a dual role – among the clever visual flourishes, including the use of green screens to augment the wackiness around Tracy Morgan’s character.
The set-up created an excuse for the customary flurry of Zoom calls, involving Liz (Tina Fey), Jack (Alec Baldwin) and Jenna (Jane Krakowski) along with the rest of the gang.
There were also cameos by a variety of NBC/Comcast stars, including Khloe Kardashian, Dwayne Johnson, Jimmy Fallon, Mandy Moore, Gwen Stefani and Al Roker.
Notably, not all NBC affiliates were on board with the decision, with Vulture reporting that several opted not to air a telecast that they saw as a threat to their business – encouraging people to watch a streaming service, at the risk of further cannibalizing the audience for traditional TV.
The program will air again on NBCUniversal cable networks and online, but rest assured, nobody deprived the opportunity to watch missed much.
As if anticipating the confusion, NBC put out a statement from sales chief Linda Yaccarino stressing that this was an unusual year, saying, “When future advertising history books are written, they’ll show that today was the day that NBCUniversal changed the Upfront forever.”
Like everything else associated with “30 Rock: A One-Time Special,” that’s clearly overselling things.