How ’30 Rock’ Handled Tracy Morgan’s Unexpected 8-Week Hiatus

To quote Tracy Jordan on NBC’s hit comedy TV show 30 Rock, if you want to make God laugh, make a plan.

Tina Fey and her fellow 30 Rock producers know that better than anyone. Even with a perfectly planned season, things can go wrong. The ability to adapt to last minute monkey wrenches is imperative. When an unexpected situation interrupted 30 Rock’s filming in 2011, producers had to think fast

Tracy Morgan needed a kidney transplant in the middle of filming ’30 Rock’ 

Tina Fey as Liz Lemon, Tracy Morgan as Tracy Jordan, Jane Krakowski as Jenna Maroney
Tina Fey as Liz Lemon, Tracy Morgan as Tracy Jordan, Jane Krakowski as Jenna Maroney | Ali Goldstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

Tracy Morgan, the actor who plays sketch comedy actor Tracy Jordan on the show, needed a new kidney. He would have to be off set for at least eight weeks recovering, and that meant that the writers had to rewrite part of the season. In the 1990s, Morgan was diagnosed with diabetes.

His character is somewhat based on him, so Tracy Jordan also has diabetes on 30 Rock. On the show, Tracy’s diabetes never has any serious consequences. In fact, Tracy’s diagnosis is used for comic relief. But reality was quite different for Morgan. 

Like his character, Morgan didn’t take the disease seriously at first. He told Time magazine that “My first season on ’30 Rock,’ I wasn’t taking the disease seriously. Then one day I got really sick. The doctor was like, ‘Hey, listen, we may have to take your foot.’ That was it for me. Now I take my insulin every day. My blood sugar doesn’t get over 120.”

Despite the fact that he changed his attitude toward his illness, complications from diabetes meant Morgan would need a kidney transplant at the end of 2010. An ex-girlfriend ended up donating one of her kidneys to the comedian. 

’30 Rock’ producers came up with a great way to cover Tracy Morgan’s absence

Even though the show’s writers used Morgan’s real life to inspire Tracy Jordan, they apparently couldn’t find a way to make him getting a kidney transplant funny. Or maybe they thought fans had seen enough of kidney transplant humor. The show had a full episode dedicated to a character needing a kidney transplant that aired in 2009. “Kidney Now!” even featured a star-studded song. 

Instead of repeating itself with more kidney humor, the show used the opportunity to showcase Sherri Shepherd’s prestigious comedic skills. Shepherd played Tracy Jordan’s wife Angie.

Writers established that Angie had her own Real Housewives style reality show on Bravo, and they capitalized on that idea while Morgan was absent. They did an entire episode as if it were Angie’s reality show, “Queen of Jordan.” 

The “Queen of Jordan” episodes ended up being some of the best in the series  

30 Rock ended up having two “Queen of Jordan” episodes during its run. The concept of them is a little confusing. After all, 30 Rock is already about a show within a show. By filming the mock reality show “Queen of Jordan,” writers added another show to the mix, which could have been too many layers.

But their expert writing Shepherd’s hilarious delivery made these episodes some of the funniest in the series. 

That’s saying something, considering how funny the show was. One blogger calculated that there are almost 10 jokes per minute in 30 Rock. That includes layered humor and meta jokes that repeat throughout the series.

One of the best parts of “Queen of Jordan” is the show’s dedication to a reality TV format. It really feels like fans are watching a reality TV show featuring their favorite 30 Rock characters, which is one of the reasons the “Queen of Jordan” episode is a fan favorite.

It doesn’t hurt that the episode features one of the biggest guest stars in the series. Susan Sarandon appears in “Queen of Jordan,” which makes it crazier to think this episode wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Morgan’s kidney transplant.