Celebs Flock to '30 Rock' Despite Low Ratings

Tina Fey's hit comedy series has celebs lining up to guest star.

ByEmily Friedman
January 12, 2009, 3:35 PM

Jan. 13, 2009 — -- "30 Rock" has all the components of a hit sitcom: an all-star cast, a mantel full of awards, critical acclaim and the hottest celebrities banging down its door for cameos.

So why isn't anyone watching?

"['30 Rock'] is an acquired taste," said Matt Roush, a television critic at TV Guide magazine. "The nature of the show is that the humor is bizarre and absurdist, which critics love but that isn't all that mainstream."

Industry insiders say that while "30 Rock" continues to rake in awards -- the show took home three at Sunday night's Golden Globes -- some of the show's humor is just too out there for many to appreciate.

"There are lots of inside jokes that are just incredibly crazy, and some viewers write off as silly," said Roush.

"Just look at the acceptance speeches [at the Golden Globes]," said Roush. "Tracey Morgan sort of exemplified what the show is, which is off its rocker."

"But that's probably also what limits it," he said.

Like Morgan's speech at the awards show, Fey -- who is the show's creator and executive producer -- took the opportunity to call out a few critics who have dogged her on the Internet all season, telling them to "suck it."

While the third season of "30 Rock" started off well, Neilsen Media Research estimates that the show garnered 8.7 million viewers for its Oct. 30 premiere, the program's ratings have since slipped.

Last week's episode was viewed by 5.37 million, a 38 percent drop in viewers, despite the season's high-profile guest stars such as Oprah Winfrey and Jennifer Aniston. CBS's "CSI" won the time slot with 9.8 million viewers.

But even without strong ratings, "30 Rock" still manages to attract some of the biggest names in Hollywood, many of whom want to star alongside Fey and co-star and producer Alec Baldwin.

"There are shows that are designated as critics' darlings and industry faves, and '30 Rock' qualifies as one of those, even without the ratings," said Roush. "It's so freewheeling and crazy you can understand why people want to be a part of it."

A representative of "30 Rock" declined to comment on the show's ratings. The series is a satire of behind-the-scenes action at a fictional comedy show called "TGS" with Tracy Jordan.

Hollywood Flocks to "30 Rock"

This season alone, "30 Rock" has welcomed talk show queen Oprah Winfrey and actors Jennifer Aniston, Steve Martin and Salma Hayek. Previous seasons have included guest appearances by Matthew Broderick, David Schwimmer, Edie Falco and former Vice President Al Gore.

"Tina Fey is as hot as it comes right now," said Ben Grossman, the editor in chief of Broadcasting & Cable. "If Fey wants you on her show, a lot of people are going to say yes, whether anybody watches it or not."

But Grossman explained that a lot of star power doesn't always translate into improved ratings.

"I doubt a lot of stunt casting -- from Oprah to Aniston to Martin -- is going to help the numbers take off," he said.

James Hibberd, a senior reporter for The Hollywood Reporter, said that being a part of such a highly respected program may be enough for the camera-hungry celebs, ratings notwithstanding.

"Celebrities love camera time, and just because an appearance doesn't help a particular show's ratings doesn't mean that it won't help an actor's career," said Hibberd.

Even P. Diddy wants in on the "30 Rock" action.

"I'm definitely trying to holler at Tina Fey," Diddy told E! in a December interview. "Me and Tracey [Morgan], we've been talking, and we got a scheme up our sleeves."

"I'm definitely trying to get in on that in the next two years, for real," he said.

"'30 Rock' has become a cool destination for someone who wants to get an Emmy nod," said TV Guide's Roush.

In 2008, seven of the 10 Emmy nominations for best guest actor or actress in a comedy series were for stars who'd made appearances on "30 Rock."

"It's a guest spot that really pops and people take notice," said Roush.

Will The Doors Ever Close on '30 Rock?'

While no television guru was willing to say that ratings don't matter, the critical acclaim "30 Rock" has received may have secured the show a spot on NBC's future lineup.

"I'm not sure if the show has potential to become a ratings hit, but I don't think that an issue," said Roush. "I don't think it needs to be."

"For the prestige '30 Rock' brings NBC, through the awards and having someone like Tina Fey who is so in the media spotlight, it doesn't matter what the ratings are. It just helps the network," he said.

"The best thing for "30 Rock" in terms of what NBC can do for it is have faith and give it time," said The Hollywood Reporter's Hibberd, who also writes the Live Feed, a blog on all things TV.

"Sitcom ratings, especially ones that bring something unique to the table, tend to improve with time," he said.

Shows like NBC's "The Office" and CBS's "How I Met Your Mother" were both barely renewed after their first seasons, said Hibberd, but are now considered valuable by their networks.

"Yes, the jokes on shows like "Two and a Half Men" are probably more universal and gettable than the jokes on "30 Rock," said Hibberd.

"But that doesn't mean "30 Rock" should try to change its stripes."

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