I was trying to figure out who the character of Liz Lemon on 30 Rock reminded me of, and it finally occurred to me after I was sent a link to this collection of half-hour TV scripts in PDF form, and saw this on the second page of the pilot for Caroline in the City:
Caroline Brody – Mid-’30s, very real and much more attractive than she believes herself to be. She’s a successful cartoonist, and her Cartoon Caroline will serve as her alter ego throughout the series.
A neurotic single woman in her mid-’30s who is a successful [cartoonist/comedy writer] in New York City and is “much more attractive than she believes herself to be” — dear Lord, Liz Lemon reminds me of Caroline (whose last name was changed in the series).
Actually, 30 Rock does resemble a late ’90s NBC comedy in some ways; the premise, lead character and some of the story ideas do feel like throwbacks to the era of Suddenly Susan. The difference is in the execution, not just the single-camera format and cutaways, but the fact that the lead character’s neurosis and pathetic qualities, instead of being played down or made to seem lovable, are played up. Liz is the craziest, most malajusted person on her own show. It’s like the writers have taken the old NBC comedy format and drained all the cuteness out of it, until all that’s left are a bunch of weird people doing weird — but funny — things.
Speaking of Caroline in the City, there’s a season 2 DVD coming out sometime (but from CBS/Paramount, so music cuts galore!). It was not actually as bad as the second wave of post-Friends NBC comedies, like The Single Guy; but it was pretty weak, mostly because of the casting. The decision to cast the show from top to bottom with young, good-looking people, instead of having at least one person who was older, weirder-looking or funnier, was a sign of how corrosive the influence of Friends had become. (There was no room for an Alec Baldwin or a Jack McBrayer on the NBC of 1996.) But while the cast was bland, it wasn’t that bad, just mediocre — but as this MAD TV sketch reminds us, it was probably one of the most-mocked shows of the decade: