Do Ratings Matter for ‘30 Rock’ This Season?

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Photo: Courtesy of NBC

As you've surely heard by now, 30 Rock returns to televisions tonight with the first episode of its third season (which everyone with a computer has probably already watched on Hulu). And while the show's historically low ratings have made it an easy punch line in SNL sketches and Emmy speeches, pretty much everyone hopes that this will be the year — thanks to an army of guest stars (including OPRAH!) and the world-changing excitement over Tina Fey's Sarah Palin impression — that 30 Rock finally becomes a hit, thus saving itself from cancellation. But will it? Well, let's just say we're pretty sure it won't get canceled.

On average, 30 Rock's second season drew about 5 million viewers per episode. Bad, yes, but not that much worse than the viewerships for NBC's new My Own Worst Enemy (5.2 million watchers for Monday's episode) or Ben Silverman's hilarious big-budget Knight RIder reboot (7 million viewers last Wednesday), which was inexplicably good enough for a full-season pickup order. Nobody seems to be watching TV this fall (CBS' The Mentalist is the only sorta hit of the new season), so why hasn't anything been axed?

Earlier this week, The Hollywood Reporter's James Hibberd speculated that the weak economy is making networks wary of the costs associated with marketing new series. Plus, if they cancel shows, they'll have to resell ad space they've already sold for those time slots (and with most companies expected to cut their advertising budgets, this might be kinda hard). Also, mid-season replacements are delayed this year anyway, thanks to the writers' strike. So, no matter what happens, networks are probably inclined just to sit on the shows they have for a while. Which means even if 30 Rock loses viewers this season (which it probably won't), it's not going anywhere. We bet when the show's fifth season wins the Emmy for Best Comedy Series in 2011, Tina Fey will still be able to joke about how nobody's watching it.

Bad economy leads to odd pickups [HR]