Amusing but conventional 'Great News' follows in the footsteps of '30 Rock'

Amusing but conventional 'Great News' follows in the footsteps of '30 Rock'
Briga Heelan and Andrea Martin play a daughter and mother working at the same cable news show on the new NBC sitcom "Great News." (Eddy Chen / NBC)

In "Great News," premiering Tuesday on NBC, Briga Heelan plays Katie Wendelson, a producer at a New Jersey-based cable news show called "The Breakdown." She has been there for a few years, not making the impression she would have hoped for, when one day her hovering, smothering mother Carol (Andrea Martin of "SCTV," the Broadway stage, "Difficult People" and the "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" movies) shows up to announce that she has gotten herself an internship there.

Put briefly, though Carol might not be the mother Katie always needs (though she needs her often enough) she is the mother her moderately dysfunctional workplace can use.


Created by Tracey Wigfield, a veteran of "30 Rock," with "30 Rock" creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock as executive producers, it is an apple that has not fallen far from that tree. (Like "30 Rock," it also owes something historically to "Mary Tyler Moore," including a Ted Baxter-ish anchor man played with verve by John Michael Higgins.)

Along with its TV-backstage setting, it boasts the same handheld, single-camera look as did "30 Rock"; a similar cartoon-whimsical soundtrack by "30 Rock" composer Jeff Richmond; and comparable pop-cultural references and departures from reality. Portia, the co-anchor played by Nicole Richie, is an echo of Jane Krakowski's Jenna on "30 Rock." Katie's line, "My source turned out to be an ad bot for Ann Taylor Loft and I fell in love with him, but that wasn't my fault — he kept calling me," is purest Liz Lemon.

But if you are going to beg comparison with a landmark of television comedy, you might want to bring something new to the table. Yet "Great News" is, if anything, more conventional — in line with other recent NBC workplace comedies like "Superstore" and "Powerless." And though it's hard to make a show about the news that seems timely on the production schedule of a network sitcom, the hot topics referenced here feel a little lukewarm: a Candy Crush-like game called Biscuit Blitz, celebrity phone-hacking, mansplaining, even Beyoncé's "Lemonade."

There are points to be awarded for putting Martin at the center of a sitcom, and for not making Katie's love life, or lack of one, a focus of the series. Her primary relationship is with her mother, after all — and Martin and Heelan are convincingly mother and daughter; her desires are professional ones.

It's not a dumb show, and now and then it's a smart one: "Our job isn't tracking down clues or meeting mysterious sources," as boss Greg (Adam Campbell) tells Katie, "It's saying stuff on TV that people already read on the Internet," is a pretty good comment on the current state of the news.

But it's a mystery of making television that a cast packed with talented people (including creator Wigfield as a mad meteorologist) reading lines that may well have killed on paper can still fail to fully ignite. Yet if "Great News" is mostly what one might call theoretically funny, it is certainly not unwatchable. It has its untaxing pleasures. It would not be a stretch to call it amusing.

John Michael Higgins and Nicole Richie are cable news co-anchors on the new NBC comedy "Great News."
John Michael Higgins and Nicole Richie are cable news co-anchors on the new NBC comedy "Great News." (Evans Vestal Ward / NBC)

'Great News'

Where: NBC

When: 9 and 9:30 p.m. Tuesday

Rating: TV-PG-D (may be unsuitable for young children with an advisory for suggestive dialogue)

Follow Robert Lloyd on Twitter @LATimesTVLloyd