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'30 Rock': Finale preview

Well, this is it, the end of "30 Rock," in a few hours. As we prepare for our fond, sad farewell, here are a few clips, previews, questions-answered, tours, and..the first review. On that note, go to the end of this post - if you are of a mind to do so - to check out Newsday's review of the  first episode of "30 Rock" way back on Oct. 11, 2006. Happy to say we got that one right (Can't say that for all of 'em...)


 Oct. 11, 2006

The New TV Season: REVIEW; Talent, jauntiness make '30' rock BYLINE: BY VERNE GAY. STAFF WRITER SECTION: PART II; Pg. B25 LENGTH: 670 words

My dear granny once gave me some great advice that I've followed erratically over the years: Always put your best foot forward, sonny. Clearly, the producers of "30 Rock" needed to meet Granny.

While it may be reasonably evident from tonight's pilot that "30 Rock" is one of the season's best new comedies on any major television network - marred by some wooden spots here, some off-key notes there - the viewer should suspend judgment until next week's episode ("The Aftermath").

Only then will you know for sure. "30 Rock" is indisputably the one - a rare and almost totally unexpected triumph in a new fall season where you probably haven't heard that line too often. It's unexpected because "30 Rock" seems to have been cursed by some strangely negative Tao from the start, notably NBC's (and critics') apparent preference for the other "Saturday Night Live" take-off/show-within-a-show, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip."

"30 Rock" has the imprimatur of Lorne Michaels and Tina Fey - both are executive producers, while she stars - and "Studio 60" has Aaron Sorkin. They're all big talents, but Sorkin has a tin ear for the lunacy of late-night TV.

Michaels is one of the genre's founders. It should have always been evident which show would feel more authentic. What's best about "30 Rock" - the name refers to 30 Rockefeller Center, where a fictitious live sketch program, "The Girlie Show," originates - is an easy jauntiness and sure-footed recognition that television, at its core, is an idiotic profession.

"Studio 60" occasionally wants to score some grand (or grandiose) observations about modern culture. "30 Rock" establishes why that impulse is misguided: TV plays by its own perverse set of rules that have no bearing whatsoever on the rest of the world. "I just love television so much," says the earnest NBC page, Kenneth (Jack McBrayer).

"We all do," bleakly responds "Girlie Show" producer Pete Hornberger (Scott Adsit). "30 Rock" agilely mixes in references to NBC, GE and the real world of TV and pop culture. Fey plays Liz Lemon, head writer on the show (one of her gigs at "SNL") when she arrives on set one fine day to learn that she has a new boss, Jack Donaghy (Alex Baldwin), armed with a new mandate to get more male viewers.

Donaghy wants to bring aboard Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan), a movie star with a tenuous hold on his sanity. Hard to say who more effectively commits on-screen grand larceny here - Baldwin or Morgan. But both are terrific. If Baldwin's portrayal is homage to Michaels, then it must be unintentional. As former head of microwave ovens for General Electric, the conglomerate that controls the network, his greatest triumph was a "trivection" model that used three types of heat: "You could cook a turkey in 22 minutes!" he exults. (And how long does a sitcom last, without commercials, by the way?)

Baldwin's Donaghy is dry, smart, smooth, passive-aggressive and profoundly cynical - a perfect distillation of TV power. By contrast, Fey's Lemon is a New York-bred neurotic: a realist who still holds onto a tattered thread of idealism while massaging "Girlie Show" talent, like nut-job Jenna (Jane Krakowski).

Then there's Jordan. After sitting next to him on a flight, Donaghy decides in a blaze of inspiration that he should headline "The Girlie Show." Never mind that Jordan has never starred in a TV variety show; is accompanied everywhere by his posse of large, blubbery men who rarely smile; and is (oh, yeah) psychotic.

The guy can't even read off the cue cards ("I'm proud as a peaCOCK . ...") Can "30 Rock" survive? Hard to say. The time period's brutal. (CBS airs "NCIS" while ABC has "Dancing with the Stars.") Launches of 8 p.m. shows are tough (although ABC's "Ugly Betty" appears to be thriving). And show-biz satires rarely click. Maybe NBC needs to hear some other advice from Granny: Patience, sonny. Patience. 30 ROCK. A wicked and mostly wonderful send-up of a medium that richly deserves send-ups. With Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin. Sitcom debuts tonight at 8 on NBC/4. LOAD-DATE: October 11, 2006 LANGUAGE: ENGLISH

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