Why The Mourning Over 30 Rock?
Low rated sitcoms disappear all of the time and no one notices. In fact, even most high rated sitcoms go off the air with a whimper. Who mourned the departure of a show like Everybody Loves Raymond which consistently had high ratings?
But the series finale of 30 Rock, the show about a fictional version of Saturday Night Life starring Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, is provoking fans across the country to rend their garments in mourning, despite the fact that the show’s ratings have ranged from mediocre to subpar throughout its run, rarely cracking the top 100 shows on broadcast television. Critics are pouring out articles expressing their admiration for the show, including one piece on Slate about the show’s linguistic legacy.
The difference is that 30 Rock was qualitatively a very good show. Like Arrested Development, another low-rated but much believed show, one could argue that 30 Rock was actually art. It may be a sitcom, a medium perceived as lowbrow, but its crackling dialogue would have worked in a Billy Wilder movie. But, for whatever reason, it didn’t “play in Peoria.”
The divide in television between what’s good and what’s watched is currently bigger than ever before. The most popular show on television is apparently NCIS, it gets no ink or attention (outside of endless promos during football games). In contrast, critical darlings like Homeland or Girls get constant coverage and scrutiny and yet have a comparative handful of watchers. Should media ignore its “elite” tendencies and pay attention to the shows that people watch?
Of course not. Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s good and thus worth covering. There is an important role for celebrity journalism and all sorts of pop culture coverage but it doesn’t have to sink the lowest common denominator. Journalism is supposed to inform and to make considerations about what is important. Shows like 30 Rock and The Wire may not have viewers but they’re important and will be watched for generations. NCIS and Everybody Loves Raymond? They will be footnotes to history.
Covering the arts is always subjective but, for critics and reporters, quality matters. Even if 30 Rock was watched by relatively few people, its departure from television can never be adequately mourned.
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