Thursday night marks the final episodes of “30 Rock”, Tina Fey’s sitcom about life behind the scenes of a fictional sketch comedy series airing on NBC.
Over its eight seasons, 30 Rock turned Liz Lemon into an iconic character and quote machine, gave a second life to Alec Baldwin’s comedy career, somehow sneaked Tracy Morgan and Judah Friedlander onto a regularly airing network comedy, and made the world safe for critically acclaimed but ratings-challenged sitcoms that nonetheless left a mark on popular culture (two words: “MILF Island”).
Oh, and for some reason, it had a lot of references to hockey. Glorious, seemingly inexplicable references to hockey.
Was it the NBC influence, considering that “30 Rock” aired as the NHL and the parent network were in cahoots?
“No, none at all,” said Jack Burditt, a writer on the show who is now writing for “The Mindy Project” on FOX. “This was something that was born out of the writer’s room.”
Burditt, a Los Angeles Kings fan, said that the references were fostered by the NHL’s cooperation. “I think it helped that the NHL was so much easier to deal with than the other sports,” he said.
Was the cast filled with puckheads?
“Tina did talk about the Flyers. Her dad was a Flyers fan. I’ve heard Tina talk more about hockey than anybody else,” he said. “Alec talked mostly about football. [Jack] McBrayer is from the south, so ...”
Hockey just seemed to fit thematically. “30 Rock” was a show that had the admiration of a hardcore group of fans and media, but never could take the next step up in popularity, like, for example, its timeslot competitor “The Big Bang Theory” had.
“We talked about a lot of that the last few months of filming. That it was the seventh season and we got to do it this long. Especially the first couple of years, we always thought we would be cancelled,” he said.
Here’s a look back at some of the more prominent hockey moments and themes from “30 Rock”, with Jack Burditt explaining where the heck they came from ...
As a primer, here’s a NY Mag collection of hockey references on “30 Rock”:
The New York Islanders
One NHL team has been featured prominently throughout the run of ’30 Rock’: the New York, soon-to-be-Brooklyn Islanders.
JACK BURDITT: “It all started with Liz’s dirtbag ex-boyfriend Dennis Duffy, who just seemed always contrary to everything. So of course he would be a big hockey fan. If you live in Manhattan, it’s natural you’re going to be a Rangers fan. No, Dennis is going to be an Islanders fan instead. It’s perfect. He’ll always be wearing the jersey, he would probably be getting in fights constantly every day.
“Being a Rangers fan just seemed too easy for Dennis Duffy."
“In Season 2, when he had a hero moment and rescued someone in the subway, we were in the writers’ room and asked what Dennis Duffy would do if he were a hero. The very first thought: He would spend a day with the Stanley Cup. That’s what the guy would do. Walk around with the Cup as long as he could.
“We ended the episode finding out that he lost the Stanley Cup on a water taxi.”
Paul Giamatti was also an Islanders fan when he appeared as a TV editor in Season 5. In fact, he wore a John Tavares jersey and attended Islanders fantasy camp.
“I think that was another ["30 Rock" show runners] Robert Carlock bit. I forgot that was the Islanders, too."
The Stanley Cup
The “Subway Hero” episode of ’30 Rock’ featured the Cup, as Dean Winters’ character Dennis Duffy earned the chance to carry the Chalice as a local hero.
BURDITT: “We’ve had a lot of celebrities on the show. Constantly. The day the Stanley Cup was there, the buzz was so much bigger than for most of the stars that came through. Everyone wanted their picture taken with it. It’s the greatest trophy in all of sports.”
In Season 4, the “TGS” staff is taken to Boston by Jack and shares office space with the obnoxious all-male staff of “Bruins Beat”, a Boston Bruins talk show.
BURDITT: “I think that was Robert Carlock, who ran the show with Tina and is one of the Boston contingent, came up with that. And it was delightful.”
“We had a lot of hockey fans on staff. And a lot of Bruins fans. Harvard guys that are overly obnoxious for all things Boston sports.”
Dropping a Bobby Clarke Reference
During a memorable face off over Boston vs. Philadelphia, Liz Lemon drops a reference to Bobby Clarke, the Hall of Fame Philadelphia Flyers center.
BURDITT: “Those Flyers teams were the first hockey team I was aware of growing up. When it came to doing the Boston vs. Philly rivalry, I definitely wanted to mention those Flyers teams.”
Ottawa Senators Psych-Up Song
In Season 4, Danny Baker (Cheyenne Jackson) joined the “TGS” cast as a resident Canadian. Along with having trouble saying “about”, he was known for the ScotiaBank psych-up song.
BURDITT: “[Laughs] I don’t remember how that came about. Our character Danny was from Canada. We wanted to do Canadian jokes. The first thing we thought about was hockey. The fans up there have so much passion that many of us here in the States even think is a little fanatical. Like, ‘What is this?’”
The 1995 Quebec Nordiques
In Season 6, the show created a classic spoof of the star-laden comedies of Gary Marshall, including “Valentine’s Day”, set during Martin Luther King Day. Inexplicably included in a montage that featured WWE wrestler Mankind: a team photo from the 1995 Quebec Nordiques.
BURDITT: “It’s one of those things where a lot of times, you’re just trying to make the other writers in the room laugh. And then you’re surprised that it gets into the show. You’re like, ‘Who is this for? The eight people in the writer’s room? Is this going to go out to America? Are they going to see what’s going on with ‘Big Bang Theory’ instead?”
Throughout the run of ’30 Rock’, Tracy Morgan’s character “Tracy Jordan” (a.k.a. Tracy Morgan, basically) was given inexplicable moments with hockey: a New York Rangers goalie mask here, a jersey there, having his kids scare the crap out of him wearing Bernie Parent masks. This led to Morgan doing an HBO “24/7” spoof on the NHL Awards in 2012.
BURDITT: “We love to come up with areas that Tracey Jordan would not be interested in. You look at the ridiculous character, and the last thing that guy would be is a hockey fan, or have his kids play hockey. He wouldn’t even know what hockey is."
“I’m sure Tracy Morgan has no idea what he’s talking about in making hockey references. All I hear him talking about is the Knicks.”