Writing 30 Rock's Final Episodes Was A Rush To The Finish

For fans of "30 Rock," the show's finale delivered a satisfying, hilarious, and at times touching sendoff. The last two episodes embodied what made the quirky Tina Fey project great: crisp writing, sturdy characterizations, and a strong ensemble cast. But the process of creating those final moments looked more like an episode of "30 Rock" itself, one filled with chaos, late nights, and frenzied rewrites.

In an article for Buzzfeed, former "30 Rock" writer Tom Ceraulo reflected on the last days of the NBC sitcom. Although the last table read was set for the Thursday after Thanksgiving in 2012, the writers had not settled on storylines for the two back-to-back episodes until just before the holiday. The writers set off on a last-minute cram session, with Robert Carlock and Jack Burditt putting together a draft of the penultimate episode and Fey and Tracey Wigfield composing the last. After the staff discussed the drafts, the rewrite room went scene by scene through the script and began rewriting that Sunday. By Tuesday, a final script started coming together.

The next day, Fey approached Ceraulo with handwritten changes to her final scene with Tracy Morgan. Ceraulo discovered a heartwarming exchange that extended beyond Morgan's typical ludicrous one-liners and instead hinted at the true relationship between the former "Saturday Night Live" co-stars. But adding a personal touch to the script wasn't the only contribution Fey made as the clock was winding down.

Breaking down

"[Fey] then stayed in the room for the end of the rewrite and for the 'ceremony' of checking the final scene number on the whiteboard. It was the first real instance of 'this is the last time we'll do this,' and though we weren't done until 1:30 a.m., I was a little sad when the night was over."

According to Ceraulo, staff started breaking down during the last table read and others were on the verge of tears. It's a scene where life imitates art, one that echoes the "30 Rock" episode "The C Word" where Liz Lemon has a nervous breakdown after rewriting the entire show's script while watching a "Designing Women" marathon.

Despite the adrenaline-fueled rewrite process and two scripts written by separate writing teams, the finale is consistent — not just in tone, but with the show's evolution. Watching "30 Rock" felt like experiencing a sugar rush in a carnival: It zigzagged between flashbacks and arcane references, set lyrics about werewolf bar mitzvahs and tennis night to catchy hooks, and dropped in cameos from Al Gore and Carrie Fisher. Unlike other series finales that disappointed fans with storylines that torpedoed character arcs (ahem, "Game of Thrones"), the anarchic nature of "30 Rock" remained one of its biggest assets. It was organized chaos, just as it always had been.

A long-awaited payoff

The finale shows that for all of their growth, there are some bad habits that the cast of "TGS" just can't shake. Just as she did in the pilot episode, Liz Lemon must trek to a strip club to talk some sense into Tracy after he acts out. It's another example of the writers' consistent vision for the show. In a 2014 interview with EW, Fey acknowledged they had long known how Liz and Kenneth the page would end up.

"There were some things that we knew and had even come up before the finale. We knew we wanted Kenneth to inherit NBC and we knew at some point that we wanted Liz to adopt children or a child. Originally it was going to be this child that Kenneth fathered by accident at the Beijing Olympics or something."

The writers wrapped up Kenneth's arc in a neat bow with the perfect punchline: He is indeed immortal. The last scene closes on Liz Lemon's great-granddaughter, who pitches a show based on the older Lemon's stories at 30 Rock. Kenneth is now head of the network, a goal that the writers teased throughout the series. 

As for Jack Donaghy's ending, Fey told EW that they were still breaking Jack's story "within a month of shooting" the finale episodes. But even though it came down to the wire, Fey and the team finally cracked it: Jack became the CEO of GE after coming up with the idea for a see-through dishwasher. Nicely done, Jack.