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Seeing TV Differently, Through the Eyes of College Students
November 11, 2010  | By David Bianculli  | 1 comment
30-rock-live-alec-10-O14.jpgMost of the time, when I teach TV History and Appreciation to my students at New Jersey's Rowan University, one goal is to get them to imagine watching old television when it was new. But every once in a while, comparisons to TV old and new have me looking at today's television through THEIR eyes. It's a very different experience -- and recently, NBC's 30 Rockgave me that chance...

For one of my TV courses, for example, we already had seen the live Golden Age telecast of 12 Angry Men, and George Clooney's 2000 live performance of Fail-Safe, so I thought NBC's then-upcoming live episode of 30 Rock would be an interesting assignment for a paper. That week, I showed the most recent "regular" episode of 30 Rock, assigned them to watch the live episode on NBC or afterward on Hulu or the network's website, and waited for the papers to come in.

The papers themselves, on the whole, were well-written, solidly organized, and reflected a genuine enthusiasm for seeing a prime-time TV show performed live, without a net. A few students, relying on the Internet, compared the changes in the East and West Coast performances -- which I also did, the following week, in class.


One student, Laura Schnatterly, provided such a creative suggestion for what 30 Rock SHOULD have done on its live episode that it earned her an instant A. While she, like virtually all her classmates, loved the cleverness of the live "flashbacks," which had Tina Fey's Liz Lemon played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Laura suggested what would have been an even more bold and brilliant casting coup:

"This would have been the perfect time," she wrote, "for Sarah Palin to get on the show and play the 'stand-in' for Tina Fey's character in her flashbacks."

Yes, it would have been. And after all those times of Fey playing Palin on Saturday Night Live, that would have completed the circle perfectly. No offense to Louis-Dreyfus, who was very funny, but think of Palin as Liz -- and, regardless of the level of Palin's performance, think what a superb comic surprise THAT would have been...

But perhaps the biggest surprise, regarding my 30 Rock viewing assignment, was how many students wrote that the episodes shown in class, and assigned to view, were the first 30 Rock shows they had ever seen. Some of them even thanked me for assigning the live episode -- confessing that had I not told them to watch, they would have been unaware the live episode was even coming.

And that made me look at 2010 television from THEIR perspective. How can 30 Rock NOT be on their radar? It's one of the best shows on TV right now, and certainly aimed at a college-level sensibility -- and it started back in 2006, so it's been around since most of them were in high school. But no.

And not knowing about the live episode? NBC couldn't have promoted that more aggressively -- but these kids aren't watching network TV, so they aren't seeing the ads, much less the show. Networks of today have to reach these young viewers where they're already gathering, and that's no longer network TV.

This generation is different:

If you build it, they WON'T come. Not unless you track them down with an engraved invitation...




Birdcage liner said:

But all the newspaper coverage! Surely they would have seen . . .

[...Newspapers? Don't be so sure. Sigh. -- David B.]

Comment posted on November 11, 2010 9:23 AM

Eileen said:

Considering the college age group is the demographic that networks long for, it's pretty shocking.

Although I share my home & tv with two twenty somethings, they wouldn't watch "30 Rock" except that it's my favorite sitcom and they don't have much choice. They are devoted viewers of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and all things cable. They recently joined the "Walking Dead" viewership, and I'm sure they will see that through, but only because of the heavy promo on that show.

The humor on "30 Rock" is so rapid fire, and the scripts so well written, that anyone not watching it is only cheating themselves.

Glad you've turned some of them on to this wonderful show.

[...You're right about the cable bias of college viewers. But what I have to keep reminding myself is that, to them, it's not bias because there's no perceived difference. To them, TBS is just another network offered on cable... the same way they perceive HBO, CBS, and the CW. -- David B.]

Comment posted on November 11, 2010 11:25 AM

Eileen said:

On a different note...

Thank you, David, for highlighting tonight's HBO showing of "Wartorn". It's Veterans' Day, but so many forget the importance of all those who provide us with safety and security at their own risk past, present and future. I'm glad James Gandolfini took this important project on, and it should be required viewing.

So thank you, David, and thank you veterans.

[I'll accept the thanks, but not in equal measure to veterans -- especially not today. -- David B.]

Comment posted on November 11, 2010 12:03 PM

Jack Cheng said:

There are problems with a Palin cameo:

1. it's live television. She had lines to read. Who knows how she would have done (or what she would have done)?

2. I don't think Tina Fey or Alec Baldwin (or Jack Donoghy) would be happy to cut a check to Palin for any reason.

What I liked about Julia L-D was that it was totally unexpected (again, Palin would have been promoting it herself, even if NBC was on the down low) and that it connected Liz and Tina to an important female sitcom character.

As a history professor, you must have picked up that this is one of the major "themes" of 30 Rock -- the history of comediennes, both in casting (Stritch) and story (Fisher).

Comment posted on November 11, 2010 1:45 PM

Sean Dougherty said:

30 Rock is great (not as much this year but worth watching) but if you don't work in media or a corporation, you won't get the best jokes. The character stuff is actually pretty forgettable but making fun of green mascots and GE Executive Training retreats are the classic shows.

It's not surprising that it wouldn't appeal to a group of people who have never had a job.

Comment posted on November 14, 2010 7:19 AM
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