One of the keys to earning a cult following is creating a world that feels infinitely knowable. In contrast to creating widespread appeal, which is based much more on creating a stable and compelling cadre of easily-digestible characters, the cult hit must feel as if every reference, every joke, every line ties into dozens of earlier mentions. The characters must seem as if, when they leave the screen or stage or page, they continue into a fully realized world. This sort of world creating is obviously key to science fiction and fantasy such as Star Wars, Firefly, and Lord of the Rings, but it also explains the rabid fans of The Hold Steady, R. Kelly, and Sam Shepard. Nerds love these culture creators because nerds love being able to know things. They love when their extensive knowledge of a given subject exponentially increases the pleasure they gain from consuming the latest installments of their favorite projects. This is why nerds love 30 Rock, and why we will miss it so.
30 Rock was a workplace sitcom in the same way Cabin in the Woods was a horror film. It understood the conventions of its genre backwards and forwards and used this knowledge both to deflate and invigorate the form, often in the same scene. It understood that behind Friends, That 70s Show, Scrubs, or any other successful sitcom laid the basic appeal of a core group of characters dealing with more or less similar problems that magically are always resolved in 22 minutes. But it also always wanted to do more than entertain. 30 Rock was ambitious in its unceasing desire to infect the minds of its fans like some alien virus until we saw the whole world through its lens. It did this through world creating. Casual 30 Rock fans like Tracy, or Jenna, or Liz. Hardcore fans, when asked about the favorite characters, will name check Lenny Wosniak, Leo Spaceman, Hannibal the homeless man, or Paul L’astnamé. These characters, appearing maybe only a few times a season, flesh out the world of 30 Rock. These characters all seem like they could star in their own show, a fact lampooned by the show itself when, in the last episode (God, that hurts) Liz is seen acting as head writer on a show starring Grizz, the less compelling of Tracy's two bodyguards. These supporting characters, more than the running gags about Kenneth being immortal or the constant 8 ½ style back and forth between the actors' real lives and their characters fictional ones, are what gives 30 Rock that special something.
New Yorkers used to complain that Friends didn't feel like the city, and it's true, it didn't. But it also didn't feel like anywhere else. Friends existed on a soundstage, a world that, while it sometimes included characters other than the central ensemble, never really seemed to care about them. Nobody can say that Paul L’astnamé was anything other than a labor of love. 30 Rock rewarded nerds by putting as much obsessive attention to detail into these minor characters as their ardent fans would. Watching this show, you felt as if you had been given a delightful, shiny toy that would only shine brighter the more you played with it. 30 Rock didn't really take place in New York, and in some ways that's why we will miss it so much. It took place in a world entirely its own, a world into which, every Thursday, we were allowed a peak. While we might not want to live there, it sure was a fun place to visit.