“30 Rock” reunion special faces affiliate resistance (updated)

Chicago viewers will get to see Liz Lemon & Co. reunite. Outside of Chicago? It depends on where your live – and who owns your NBC station.

[Updated Thursday at 4:25 p.m.] 

Are you excited about the 30 Rock reunion Thursday night? If you live outside of the Chicago area, you might have to delay your enthusiasm until Friday morning at the earliest.

As first reported by Vulture Tuesday, the 30 Rock Reunion Special has been rejected by numerous NBC affiliates across the country. Station groups belonging to Tegna, Scripps, Gray, Nexstar, and Sinclair Broadcasting have directed their NBC affiliates not to carry the show, scheduled to air Thursday night at 7 p.m. Central time. Viewers can still watch the special – but have to wait until Friday morning, where it’ll be available on NBC.com. 

A spot check I made reveals most major-market NBC stations outside of the network’s owned station group are not carrying the special, including WDIV Detroit, WTMJ Milwaukee, WLWT Cincinnati, WNDU South Bend and KSDK St. Louis, among others in the Midwest. Many stations are pre-empting for local news specials, i.e. a town hall meeting on racial justice on WTMJ, while a coronavirus special is scheduled for KSHB in Kansas City.

WDIV has opted to delay the special until Friday morning at 1:37 a.m. 

Three NBC affiliates in Illinois are also pre-empting 30 Rock: WREX Rockford, WEEK in Peoria, and KWQC in Davenport, Ia., serving Rock Island and Moline. The former two, owned by Quincy Media, have scheduled back-to-school specials instead. 

NBC owns eleven stations nationwide, including the six largest markets such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago and all will air the special. Of course, you can see the special locally on NBC-owned WMAQ Thursday at 7 p.m. NBC also owns stations in Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Boston, Miami, San Diego, and Hartford-New Haven. 

So why the pre-emptions? The 30 Rock Reunion Special is actually an one-hour infomercial for NBCUniversal’s new Peacock streaming service, which launches today – which basically is a televised “upfront” presentation touting the company’s brands since a traditional one did not take place in New York this year due to Covid-19 (the reunion special is also being made available on Peacock Friday morning.) 

Peacock, NBC’s new streaming service, launches today.

Many groups did not like the idea of NBC using their airwaves to launch a new streaming service, which would siphon viewers away from their stations as it offers the previous night’s shows available on their service the next day. It’s a fact of life network affiliates have to live with as streamers such as CBS All Access and Hulu offer the same thing.

Affiliate defections are nothing new, but in the past it was basically due to program content. During the 1972-73 season for example, numerous CBS affiliates rejected two episodes of Maude because the main character was discussing getting an abortion as a even greater number of stations rejected the summer reruns of those same episodes. In 1973 and 1974, several ABC affiliates dumped two airings of Marcus Welby, M.D. due to controversial storylines regarding homosexuality. In 1973, numerous CBS stations rejected a TV-Movie Sticks and Stones, over depictions of the Vietnam War.

In 2004, more than 50 ABC affiliates refused to air the film Saving Private Ryan at a time when stations were concerned about content issues in light of the Super Bowl Halftime Show fiasco. The same year, conservative-leaning Sinclair ordered its ABC affiliates to pre-empt an episode of Nightline as it paid tribute to those killed in the War in Iraq. Two years later, about fifteen NBC stations refused to air the controversial religious drama The Book Of Daniel.

While Chicago is mainly an all-O&O market (excluding Weigel-owned CW station WCIU) – it hasn’t escaped pre-emptions entirely. In the past, ABC’s WLS-TV and WGN-TV (when it was a WB and CW affiliate) often pre-empted network programming for sporting events, such as Cubs games.

As for 30 Rock, fans would be excited to see a reunion of the cast, but this will likely be a disappointment given the intent is to push Peacock and NBCUniversal programming, not any feelgood storylines surrounding the show. Loosely based on the network it was carried on, 30 Rock ran from 2006 to 2013 and of course, you can find 30 Rock reruns on Peacock starting today.  

Apparently, the affiliate pre-emptions are meant to send a message to NBC at a time when the network-affiliate relationship has been on thin ice as linear TV watching continues to decline. Two years ago, a news director for a Sinclair station complained about network programming, feeling it leaned too left for their taste (as did one station owner of a then-ABC affiliate in Macon, Ga., who obviously did not watch the programming on his own station.) This latest dustup means these issues aren’t going away anytime soon.

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