When Tina Fey began developing 30 Rock, even she must have happened across the thought: “Will this show even work?”
The series takes place at 30 Rockefeller Plaza and follows the exploits of a fictional sketch series The Girlie Show (TGS)—very similar in concept to Saturday Night Live (SNL)—with Tina Fey as show writer Liz Lemon.
30 Rock grew increasingly more madcap and bizarre with every passing season, but it never lost its essential sense of comedic magic, which it captured right from the very first episode.
Tina Fey really internalized her tenure at SNL and reveled in the shifting dynamics between actors and creative team, bringing it to life on 30 Rock with a stellar cast embodying everything from the mighty executives down to the page boys occupying the ground floor.
But from all the amazing characters on the show, a handful truly stand out as iconic characters of the sitcom genre. Here are the best characters from 30 Rock and why they’re so great even today.
8. Pete Hornberger
Pete Hornberger is the most capable idiot on the TGS team. He produces the show alongside Liz and is often the one who tries to bring everything back under control, even though they end up spiralling anyway.
Pete’s friendship with Liz showcases a genuine closeness between the pair throughout 30 Rock. It’s because Liz can tell him anything that makes Pete a great character, as he’s the audience’s lens in many ways—the most normal person who works on the show.
His best scene: When Pete separates from his wife, he goes to live with Liz—who finds him having a secret affair with his wife in Liz’s apartment, which she isn’t pleased about.
7. Jenna Maroney
TGS’s leading actress and incredibly self-important star, Jenna Maroney is the typical self-deluded actress who wants to star in movies.
Jenna and Liz have been friends since they were in college together, but Jenna has since become far more self-interested and easy to rattle, often sending her confidence to new lows—like when Frank jokingly tells her that Jack wants to fire one of the actors on the show.
Despite Jenna’s overt selfishness, she remains Liz’s closest friend and the pair often demonstrate this throughout 30 Rock.
Her best scene: When Jenna tries to explain the title of her first movie, The Rural Juror, it becomes a small moment of confusing hilarity.
6. Frank Rossitano
Playing on the concept of the lazy writer, Frank’s role in 30 Rock is to try and come up with great sketches for TGS. However, since he’s generally considered incompetent and a world-class slacker by Liz, Frank can appear more idiotic than he actually is.
Defined by his caps, which always have humorous phrases printed on them, we learn Frank comes from a lineage of lawyers to the Italian Mafia—and he used to attend law school before becoming a writer on TGS.
His best scene: When Frank decides to become a lawyer, his whole personality shifts to become a cliched Mafia defense attorney.
5. Cerie Xerox
Cerie’s general attitude towards everything is what makes her such a fun character in 30 Rock.
As Liz’s beautiful young assistant, Cerie is a character that leans on the “dumb blonde” platitude. However, at times, she has proven herself more than capable of reading the situation she finds herself in and skillfully maneuvering herself out of it.
Cerie’s carefree and generally moronic nature make anything she assumes about Liz funny (rather than horrible or mean) and much of Cerie’s comedy comes from her relationship with Liz.
At her core, Liz adores Cerie and even agrees to be a bridesmaid at Cerie’s wedding—though somewhat begrudgingly because she thinks Cerie is too young to be married.
Her best scene: When Liz agrees to be Cerie’s bridesmaid, she hugs Liz and says, “Now I have my ‘something old.'”
4. Tracy Jordan
When Jack Donaghy becomes the executive of the network, he immediately brings in Tracy Jordan—an off-the-wall Adam-Sandler-meets-Tyler-Perry type of comedy film star—to rejuvenate the show.
Tracy is oblivious to everything around him that’s logical and he’s 30 Rock’s edition of the pampered movie star who’s unable to understand the day-to-day events of regular life.
However, Tracy is unquestionably good at his job and makes the audience laugh through his role on TGS. Though his initial hiring isn’t taken well by Liz and the team, they grow to accept him as part of the show.
His best scene: When Tracy wants to win the EGOT, he consults Whoopi Goldberg for advice, then tries to steal her Oscar.
3. Kenneth Parcell
NBC’s page boy and general purpose whipping lad, Kenneth is too stupid to know when somebody is taking advantage of him and his kind personality; however, that’s all part of Kenneth’s charm.
Kenneth will do anything for those he believes he’s sworn to serve, often going above and beyond the call of NBC duty. He’s well-liked by those at TGS, particularly Jack Donaghy, who sees himself as a strange mentor-esque figure to Kenneth.
Kenneth’s devotion to his job and references to his home back on the farm are some of the best parts of 30 Rock.
His best scene: The funniest is when Kenneth plays poker against Jack, who—because of Kenneth’s lack of understanding of the game—can’t read Kenneth’s face, causing Kenneth to win again and again.
2. Liz Lemon
The over-stressed, over-worked, and always-eating head writer and creator of TGS, Liz Lemon is the center point of all the catastrophes that happen during the series.
Liz is the typical modern person who tastes a modicum of success, then coasts on that one idea for as long as possible while trying to avoid drama at all costs. But her personal life is often in crisis and her professional career see-saws between the extremes of bad to worse.
Liz is at her best when working alongside Jack Donaghy, as his brand of unfettered realism makes Liz more dynamic than she otherwise would be.
Her best scene: When Liz has unnecessary eye surgery, it renders her unable to cry through her tear ducts—so she cries through her mouth.
1. Jack Donaghy
Jack Donaghy is the idealized version of all humanity: he’s vividly intelligent, he always tells it like it is, and he’s capable of making broad professional decisions in an instant.
But Jack Donaghy also represents the worst of humanity: he’s selfish, sometimes mean-spirited, and finds it difficult to admit he’s wrong.
He’s the overlord of the show and whatever he decrees becomes law, even when he’s contested by folks like Liz. His control over NBC and TGS is an unrelenting source of problems for everyone.
In the end, Jack is a nice guy paired with several deep flaws, and his friendship with Liz—which blossoms over the run of the series—is perhaps the best aspect of the entire show.
His best scene: When Jack is briefly ousted from being an executive at NBC, he works his way up the page program and works so hard that he gets promotions every few hours.