Breaking Up with NBC: How to Say Goodbye to Your Favorite Shows

It was in the throes of a fever that I first watched 30 Rock (2006-present). Wrapped in my blanket, sweating, sipping on a lukewarm mug of green tea, I tried to ignore the sounds of my roommates’ party celebrating the end of the spring semester. I could hear the rhythmic splash of beer cans cracking open. The half-yelled conversations. Rihanna singing about raingear. I would have joined the party if I could have, but standing made my entire body quiver like an altar boy called to the rectory.

No, what I needed was not a party but an easy diversion. What I needed was TV, but without one in my room, I would have to resort to the laptop. Unfortunately, this was in a prehistoric age before Hulu. Streaming was, by and large, made possible only by bootleggers and pirates, and they celebrated one show above all. 30 Rock. So I turned it on.

I watched a slew of episodes from the first two seasons—the only two available at the time. I remember my dazed laughter. I remember the craving, the hunger for another 22 minutes of unadulterated joy. By the time I realized how much time had passed, the party had burned itself out, leaving only the hum of the El train passing by. Had someone walked in right then, I would have looked no different than a junkie. The pale skin. The glassy expression. The cold sweats. The irrational muttering about when I could get my next hit. It was, in short, true love.

*

If one considers how much time, effort, and ink is spent on TV, then it should be clear: to watch television is to love television. How else can you explain devotion so strong it brings a long-gone series like Arrested Development (2003-2006, 2013) back to life? Or the obsessive rigor with which viewers took to Lost (2004-2010)?

A fan’s relationship with a show is a romance. The series introduces itself with a pilot, woos an audience with jokes and cliffhangers, and if it’s good enough, it makes the time that it spends watching each week the best part of its evening. The catch, of course, is this relationship will inevitably come to an end. No show can stay on the air forever. It’s tragic in a way, but if television has taught me anything, it’s this: the greatest love stories have all been tragedies.

First, here’s the good news. NBC released its fall schedule. Comedy favorites The Office (2005-present), Parks and Recreation (2009-present), 30 Rock, and Community (2009-present) have all been renewed. But like the Queen’s jubilee, this celebration comes with its share of rain. There’s the news that Community will have an abbreviated 13 episode season. It will be moved to Fridays—the hospice of timeslots—and it will lose creator Dan Harmon as its show runner. Hope against hope, but NBC might be trying to quietly kill off the smartest show on television.

On the other hand, it’s keeping Parks and Rec around for another full season—one of the network’s only intelligent moves. Inexplicably, NBC also decided to renew The Office as well, despite the loss of even more cast members. If any show has to go, it’s The Office. In its ninth season, the show has become a shell of its former self, a corpse tossed about Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)-style to fool viewers into believing that it still has something going for it. Let’s face it: if The Onion has been saying you’ve been on too long since back in 2009, you should bow out.

Finally, there’s 30 Rock. Somehow it made it this far, to its seventh and final season. Like Community, their season will be short. They have to wrap the series up in 13 episodes. I can only speculate how I will feel when the credits roll after the final episode, but I’m sure to be conflicted. For now, I’m still working through it.

Let me reiterate. I love 30 Rock. I love Liz Lemon. I love Jack Donaghy. At their most assured, most quick witted, I love them. At their most slapdash, their most ill-conceived, I love them too. If I may wax hyperbolically: what I feel for this NBC comedy is so powerful it broaches the supernatural. Watching the first two seasons staved off a fever. Watching subsequent ones took love and made it real and human.

*

It was while working in the office of a ragtag literature magazine that I first noticed her. We had crammed a fire hazard’s worth of staff into our little office that night. Each love seat sat four people. The coffee table, six. The rest of the people were spread out on the floor, in the doorway, against any open wall. There was scarcely any room to maneuver or breathe. That evening, as on most evenings, I sat on top of a desk.

I was nursing a heartache from a recent breakup, a peculiar illness, and one not unlike a fever. But I wasn’t drinking green tea. No, the end of a relationship called for stronger medicine—a flask of whiskey. I had somehow missed her before, but throughout the staff meeting, when she started speaking up, a curious feeling came over me. Her banter held my attention. It cut like no one else’s in that office. Like watching 30 Rock for the first time, talking to her cleared my head.

Robin (not her real name) was funny. She was snarky, sharp, and mean in the best possible ways. There was a lure that I couldn’t explain and a familiar feeling, as if I’d known her from somewhere. It wouldn’t become obvious until a few months later, when we actually started dating, but once I saw it, I couldn’t unsee it. When she wore her glasses and let her hair down, she really did resemble Liz Lemon.

It wasn’t my opinion, either. Robin admitted to it and even picked up a few Lemonisms along the way to cement it—she sang me “Night Cheese” once. Two people who were unacquainted with one another both began calling her “Lemon” without knowing the joke had been played out by the other.

Unsurprisingly, the two of us were emphatic fans of the show. We would watch it constantly, especially after it went into syndication. There was something pure about the nights that we spent curled up on a couch watching reruns with her tiny dog slumbering next to us. We would drink glasses of middling Prosecco. We would munch on leftover pizza. At least in the eyes of Liz Lemon, could that be anything but love?

*

As powerful and fulfilling as this relationship was, I should have known it was going to end. The signs were there. Rumors of Alec Baldwin’s departure from the show became more common. Tina Fey told Barbara Walters, “We can’t do this for 35 years. We’d love to keep going and see where everybody ends up, right? But you don’t want to see me with a gray stripe, eating a slice of pizza, going on dates.”

When Tina Fey says it’s over, you know it is. You can grieve and moan, but it’s better to accept it. If you’re like me, you can feel better by imagining a future where Alec Baldwin, freed from his obligations on the small screen, pulls a Regan and becomes the mayor of New York City. A small but important step on his path to becoming President Baldwin.

Yes, 30 Rock has had a phenomenal run, but it’s time to let go. As I mentioned before, the best love stories are tragedies. They’re better when they end abruptly, leaving you wanting more, than when they decompose, losing all their charm through the years. Accepting it now will make losing it later easier. It no longer bothers me that my favorite show is going off the air. (Community is another story. I’m still in denial, but I know it has to go eventually. I’ll get there, one of these days.)

I propose a show’s cancellation, like a breakup, is a blessing in disguise. Sure, you won’t see any new adventures with the characters you’ve come to know and love, but the world opens up. You have time to watch other shows without any commitment. You know, rebound television.

Let’s examine next season’s prospects. There’s The New Normal, which is about a gay couple who have a baby with a surrogate. Surprisingly contemporary. More power to NBC for espousing equality and not exploiting it for cheap laughs (fingers crossed). Or Animal Practice—basically Scrubs (2001-2010) with animals. Then there’s Mathew Perry’s new show Go On. Perry can’t seem to get a break, despite being the best cast member of Friends (1994-2004). All his shows get cancelled. (Remember Mr. Sunshine (2011)? Of course you don’t.) But maybe, just maybe, this new one will be different.

*

As for my relationship with Robin, the real-life Liz Lemon: we broke up. I should have seen it coming the second we started making jokes about her apparent Liz Lemonism. It’s the cardinal rule of 30 Rock—Liz Lemon’s relationships never last.

Robin and I have since both moved on and are probably healthier for it. I like to imagine that I was the Floyd to her Liz and that our relationship fell apart due to geographical issues. But I could very well be her Dennis Duffy, some dead weight she had to cut loose in order to grow. Either way, when I catch a rerun of 30 Rock, I remember our time together fondly. And I remember this: we’ll always have “Night Cheese.”