cream: cash rules every thing around me

“30 Rock” | May 17, 2010

by Brian White

Tina Fey’s hit NBC comedy, “30 Rock,” has received many accolades from the award community winning the Emmy for Best Comedy Series each of its three seasons the latest in 2009. Tina Fey began her career with “Saturday Night Live” in 1995 when friend Adam McKay came to Chicago in search of writer. After 8 extremely successful years with “SNL,” Fey approached NBC with a proposition for a new sitcom in 2003 based on her work experience as a writer for the network. Although my teacher, Andre “Dj Foodstamp” Sirois, did a great blog post covering a recent episode that parodied the potential merger between NBC and Comcast, but I would like to examine further some of the other aspects of the show’s political agenda.

Some of the cast of "30 Rock"

Like I said earlier, “30 Rock” is an NBC show and is produced in conjunction with Broadway Video, Little Stranger Inc. and NBC Universal. Little Stranger Inc. is a smaller production company owned by Tina Fey that does primarily just “30 Rock.” Broadway Video Entertainment (BVE) was started by Lorne Michael the creator of “Saturday Night Live.” BVE has since grown into a larger company which now deals in television, film, post-production and enterprising and video. Along with “30 Rock,” BVE also does “SNL” and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” Other than “30 Rock” and “SNL,” Lorne Michaels has also had his hand in the pot of a few movies such as “Wayne’s World” and “Mean Girls” (and yeah, I said “Mean Girls,” but do not even try to hate. That movie was good).

yesss... quite menacing

“30 Rock” is filmed primarily in a studio just outside of Manhattan where the show takes place at Silver Cup Studios. Silver Cup has been the home to many great television shows such as HBO’s “Sex and the City” and “The Sopranos” as well as Fox’s “Gossip Girl,” many feature films including “Gangs of New York” and “Big Daddy” and also several hundreds of commercials. In other words, Silver Cup is a pretty big deal for NYC’s production scene.

General Electric (GE) took control over NBC during its reacquisition of RCA in 1985 reuniting the two companies after over 50 years of separation. Over the course of the next 20 years, NBC grew and expanded. It started CNBC, the business network in conjunction with Dow Jones, GE acquired Telemundo,  the Spanish network and it absorbed Vivendi in 2003. What this meant for NBC Universal was an increase in its ability to reach consumers on a national and global level. NBC is now the 4th largest broadcasting network in the country reaching millions of viewers through more than 200 affiliate stations including 10 company owned and operated. In 2007, NBC Universal and Fox joined efforts to create Hulu the online streaming website that allows users to watch video from over 200 content providers. In 2009, Disney joined up and is now a partner in Hulu.

Now, like I mentioned earlier, GE and Comcast are in talks over a potential merger between NBC Universal and Comcast. Comcast is the country’s largest provider of internet and cable service in the country and is potentially going to become the majority shareholder of NBC if the merger goes through (51%). So what does this mean for the consumer?

Well some people worry that this could change consumers access to content such as Hulu. Considering Comcast’s potential control over Hulu through NBC, some worry that Comcast will restrict access to its users only, or push Hulu to offer less free content and more paid content. The idea behind this would be that if you are a paying Comcast cable member, you would be able to view this for free, but if you are not you would have to pay on a per view or monthly basis. See TV Everywhere for more information on Comcast’s online cable interests. Also, others worry that this shift in ownership could lead to less access to NBC content. Some believe that Comcast will raise the rates it charges
its cable competitors for rebroadcasting NBC content or even pull NBC’s broadcast signal leaving non-Comcast users without access to NBC content.

So what does “30 Rock” have to do with all of this? Well, GE has a significant interest in seeing this deal go through (about $30 billion good reasons) and GE owns NBC. Historically, news corporations have preferred to sweep their business under the carpet and use their media influence to avert the public’s eye; in this case, GE has a done a pretty good job avoiding the critical media’s attention, but it has done something a little different. It has allowed one of NBC’s most critically acclaimed shows parody the business transaction. Hmm… Is this really addressing the issue?

I get that the “30 Rock” cast is taking a humorous and somewhat satirical approach to the merger, but it’s really not pointing out the serious implications of a merger such as this (like the ones we discussed earlier). What “30 Rock” has done, however, is allow GE, NBC and Comcast to own the merger and some of its ridiculousness in a light-hearted, funny way, which allows them to easily shift the focus of the merger. It is a practice in environmental advertising that we call “greenwashing,” or in other words energy companies or car companies trying to own “clean coal” or “clean diesel,” when there really is no such thing. It’s disingenuous. And in this case, it is not so much that NBC is making false claims about its merger, rather it is using “30 Rock” as its “critical” news source instead of its actual news networks such as CNBC, NBC and MSNBC. Although “30 Rock” does do a great job critiqueing, parodying, and overall questioning of media, but it is also interesting when one thinks about how that can change your overall sense of duty to question it yourself. I think we must be cautious when looking at these kinds of shows and although we feel good when we see them mocking themselves, is it really enough or should we go deeper into the issues? I think this is one of the problems of horizontal integration of a company like GE, because they have the ability to influence so many different arms of the media. They have entertainment, news and now with the potential merger even more power to control the media. Just something to think about as the deals go down and you see your media change… Cause trust me it will.

Broadway Video Entertainment
Silver Cup Studios
Time
NBC’s “30 Rock”
NBC Universal
Tina Fey and the Emmy’s
Reuters
Hulu
NBC Universal History
NY Times on Merger
Comcast Corp.
Hulu LLC

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Advertising Student at the University of Oregon interested in becoming a writer...

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