Talk about comic timing: Hours after NBC canceled "Animal Practice," a new veterinary comedy with a monkey as one of its leads, Thursday's "30 Rock" featured a subplot about a comedy show bringing in a monkey for some cheap, easy laughs.
Coincidence? The timing certainly was. "30 Rock" had no way of knowing "Animal Hospital" was going off the air.
But the storyline may not have been. "Animal Practice" emerged as an anti-"30 Rock" when NBC announced plans to push broad comedies -- the kinds with animals and kids -- rather than the acclaimed but low-rated comdies it has aired on Thursday nights for years. "30 Rock" is the most acclaimed of those shows.
An NBC spokeswoman Friday said simply that the monkey subplot was unrelated to "Animal Practice." And no one at "30 Rock" would ever openly question NBC's strategy, of course. Creator Tiny Fey recently reached a new deal to stay at NBCUniversal after "30 Rock" ends.
But it wouldn't be the first time "30 Rock" has satirized the real-life NBC.
In the era when GE owned NBC, executive Jack Donaghy tried to peddle "funcooker" ovens as well as TV shows. As Comcast took over the real NBC, the NBC of "30 Rock" was taken over by a Comcast-like company called Kabletown.
The monkey appeared Thursday in the midst of a fight between Liz and Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) over whether women are funny. Jordan concludes that monkeys are funnier than women, and lobbies to feature one (pictured) on the "30 Rock" show-within-a-show "TGS." (Spoiler alert: His worldview is shattered when the monkey turns out to be female.)
This is the final season of "30 Rock," which racked up Emmys earlier in its run. Over the summer, NBC announced that it would go broader in hopes of attracting more viewers. Crystal the Capuchin monkey -- the cutest of the "Animal Practice" cast -- was trotted out to charm critics and advertisers and help NBC sell the new approach.
But the broader strategy hit its first snag Thursday with the "Animal Kingdom" cancellation.
The season premiere of "30 Rock" also contained a possible joke about NBC's strategy. In that episode, Donaghy unveiled a plan to "tank" NBC with a slew of terrible new shows. He secretly hopes Kabletown will be so disappointed in NBC that it will sell it to the Easter-egg dye company Paas.
Liz Lemon (Fey) quickly accepts the notion that NBC has been tanking on purpose.
"Of course! How long has this been going on? Seven, eight years?" she says, without mentioning that NBC spent about that long in fourth place.
Jack responds: "Six weeks."
NBC may have the last laugh, however. Despite the setback for its broad comedies, the network is in first place in the ratings this season.