When NBCUniversal was forced to cancel its annual Radio City Music Hall upfront presentation in March due to Covid-19, ad sales chief Linda Yaccarino and her team needed to come up with an alternative idea—and they knew that just simply a Zoom call wasn’t going to cut it. “That’s not who we are,” said Yaccarino.
Instead, someone on the creative team had the off-the-wall suggestion to reunite the 30 Rock cast and have them lead the upfront presentation instead. Yaccarino “flipped out” and by the next morning, the idea was pitched to new NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell, who “greenlit it in the room,” she said.
The next call was to 30 Rock co-showrunners Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, who responded to “the authenticity of the idea to the heart-center of that show,” which ended in 2013 after seven seasons, said Yaccarino. “It was so logical, and made so much sense for 30 Rock and the TGS team to take on this crazy idea.”
And that led to tonight’s 30 Rock reunion/upfront hybrid, which aired on NBC (and will be available tomorrow on the new Peacock streaming service and most NBCU cable networks) and featured the entire cast reprising their roles.
In the special, Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer), who has been NBCUniversal chairman for six years, reassembles the characters because he wants to reboot TGS (30 Rock’s fictional sketch show) for Peacock, though it turns out he’s just mad at his former friends for ducking his Zoom invites during the four months they’ve been quarantining.
The special weaves 30 Rock’s madcap humor—with topical jokes about Zoom bombs, mask wearing and cancel culture as well as several playful jabs at NBCUniversal (a spoof promo for Law & Order: SVU 2, Just the Paperwork and a reference to P-Hen, what it claims is “NBC’s new female-centric streaming service”)—with a more traditional upfront pitch.
And in place of commercials, the special included upfront sizzle reels for Peacock, Telemundo, NBC News, NBC Sports, new shows like Chucky (airing on both USA and Syfy) and several of NBC’s new scripted series: comedies Mr. Mayor (created by Fey and Carlock, starring Ted Danson), Keenan (starring SNL’s Keenan Thompson), Young Rock (based on Dwayne Johnson’s childhood) and dramas Debris and the actual Law & Order spinoff coming to the network, Organized Crime, with Christopher Meloni reprising his SVU role as Elliot Stabler.
There are also plenty of in-jokes for marketers: Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy talks about how attractive advertisers are (“some of the smartest and most physically attractive people this industry has ever seen”), the upfront is referred to as “the most important day of the calendar, and Tracy Morgan’s Tracy Jordan talks about the company’s new One Platform offering and name-checks Yaccarino, though in typical Tracy Jordan fashion, he instead calls her “Linda Yaccarahnio.”
(The special also features around 20 cameos from NBCU stars, including Johnson, Al Roker, Sofia Vergara, Mandy Moore, Khloe Kardashian, Hoda Kotb, Gwen Stefani and Danson.)
After the special debuted Thursday afternoon for attendees of NBCU’s Creativity Summit, a giddy Yaccarino (“I’m literally bursting with pride, what my team did today”), got on the phone with Adweek to break down the telecast and answer some burning questions:
Adweek: So I guess I should call you Linda Yaccarahnio?
Yaccarino: I was getting inundated with texts. I told everyone, I’m getting new business cards. It’s all going to say, “Linda Yaccarahnio.” [laughs] And you know what’s funny about it? Originally, it was a mistake. And I was like, “Oh, my God, they have to keep that in!” I’m so glad they decided to keep it in. It was great.
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