Decades ago, television shows might boost their ratings by featuring a well-known actor guest starring in a role on the show. The actor might play themselves or a different type of character entirely, which became part of the fun and appeal for audiences. Today, opportunities abound for actors, public figures, politicians, and even minor celebrities to appear on shows and series, either in recurring roles where the character remains or returns for a string of episodes (Actor Sally Field won an Emmy Award in 2001 for her recurring role as the mother of Dr. Abby Lockhart, Maggie, a woman with bipolar disorder). An actor might also earn a cameo role, a brief or limited, sometimes uncredited and even unspoken appearance. A cameo might not seem as glamorous, high-profile, or award-winning as a recurring role, but it is often the small touch that makes a big hit. In the course of its five-year run, NBC’s Emmy-award winning, “30 Rock” has become a well-known hot spot for actors and celebrities such as Alan Alda, Queen Latifah, David Schwimmer, Paul Giamatti, John Lithgow, Andrea Mitchell, and even Al Gore to stop by and, in many cases, discover their comedic chops. Here are five “30 Rock” cameos, limited, small, one-time-only type of roles, from popular icons who made a unique contribution to Liz Lemon’s dysfunctional showbusiness family.
“SeinfeldVision,” (Season 2, Episode 1): “30 Rock’s” second season set the bar high with a priceless cameo by comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Since “Seinfeld” signed off in 1998, many have longed to catch one more glimpse of George, Jerry, Elaine, and Kramer on the small screen, and though fans did not get the reunion of their choice, they did get a rare opportunity to see Seinfeld do what Seinfeld did best: play himself. This episode revolves around Jack’s current media scheme to launch “SeinfeldVision:” a ploy involving using digital technology to insert the comic icon into other shows. Seinfeld makes his appearance near the end of the episode, storming the “TGS” NBC offices to demand Jack cease and desist the endeavor, pausing only in his rant to blatantly and hilariously self-promote his “Bee Movie.”
“Rosemary’s Baby,” (Season 2, Episode 4): Who would think to enlist the little-known but formidable comic talents of former “Star Wars” pin-up girl, Carrie Fischer? Tina Fey, that’s who! In this episode, Fischer makes a rare television appearance playing Rosemary Howard, a former television writer and pioneer for women, comedy writers like Liz Lemon. Liz befriends the aging writer at a book signing. Interested in bringing her back to the comedy writing fold, Liz enlists her to work on “TGS.” However, Rosemary clashes with the staff and her presence becomes increasingly awkward when her ideas, concepts, and jokes, which are extremely outdated and more than a little bit racist and offensive, fall flat. In a moment of feminist delusion, Liz quits her job to follow in Rosemary’s footsteps, only to quickly realize she’s made a horrifying mistake. A shining piece of writing that attests to Fischer’s self-awareness as a pop-culture and movie icon is the line she utters as Liz dashes from her rat-infested apartment: “Help me Liz Lemon, you’re my only hope!”
“Believe in the Stars,” (Season 3, Episode 2): Fresh out of dodging jury duty in Chicago, Liz ends up sharing a plane ride to New York with the most influential woman in media: Oprah Winfrey. Realizing that she’s in the presence of greatness, Liz takes the opportunity to badger the historical t.v. icon into giving her advice on everything from diet and relationships to how to manage an unruly television cast without coming unglued. Much to Liz’s delight, Oprah takes pity on her and promises to stop by the studio and take care of all her problems. She does not, however, agree to say Liz’s name in her signature booming voice. The show’s writers could have written a larger-than-life role for the larger-than-life superstar. Instead, her down-to-earth portrayal provides a great comedic foil for both Liz’s star-struck adulation and the plot twist that unfolds in the latter half of the episode.
“Klaus & Greta/Black Light Attack” (Season 4, Episodes 9 &10): Some boys never outgrow their security blankets or favorite teddy bears, actor James Franco apparently has a yen for Japanese body pillows. The television and film actor appeared on “30 Rock” in a twisted, comically bizarre role as an absurd portrayal of himself. In the first episode, Franco approaches Jenna with a business proposition: he wants to pursue a fake relationship with her in order to deflect attention from his strange infatuation with a Japanese body pillow named Komiko. The charade crumbles, and in the second episode Liz bumps into Franco at a nightclub. Following a drunken, hazy evening Liz awakens to discover herself in Franco’s apartment, after an apparent tryst with the actor and Komiko! If any team of writers could turn an utterly quirky and borderline offensive relationship with an item of bedding into comedy gold, it’s Fey and her “30 Rock” team, and if any actor can take a risk portraying a man in love with his body pillow, it’s the young and expansive James Franco.
“Kohnani,” (Season 4, Episode 18): “Nightly News” anchorman, Brian Williams, has shown he can hold his own whether reporting about grave world events or trading witty banter with Conan O’Brien or Jon Stewart. His cameo on “30 Rock” is one of those moments that provides just the right amount of humorous surprise to make the audience see this serious journalist in a slightly different light. Williams’ cameo plays into a plot-line involving Tracy who confesses to Jack that despite his bad boy image, which he has worked hard to fabricate, he is a devoted, loving, and honorable husband. To earn a reputation as a ladies’ man, Jack points out, Tracy had to have given his phone number out to hundreds of women. Or did he? A quick cut after this conversation shows Brian Williams reading a newspaper at home. The phone rings and Williams answers: “Hello? No this isn’t Tracy Jordan. (pauses) Really? I’ve not heard of that term before. Do you know how to get to Connecticut?”
While the parade of stars and celebrities continues through the “TGS” studios in its current season (Matt Damon, Kelsey Grammer, Jon Hamm), it becomes increasingly difficult to top the whos-who of Hollywood angling for their shot at the funny brass ring.