Nicole Rivelli, NBC
Tina Fey

Given that "30 Rock" is a TV show about a TV show, it seems a natural that when it returns with a new episode tonight, that episode might be about the recently settled Hollywood writers' strike.

Not gonna happen.

"We decided that the strike did not happen in our world," star/writer/creator/producer Tina Fey said in a conference call with TV critics. "We sort of felt like for people viewing at home, the real strike was a big enough pain and that they probably didn't really want to hear anymore about the strike."

Instead, Fey & Co. are taking on reality TV. You can hardly blame them — "30 Rock" gets pummeled by "Survivor" in the ratings.

In the first post-strike episode (Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Ch. 5), the writers of the fictional TV show at the center of "30 Rock" — along with a whole lot of American viewers — are obsessed with faux NBC's latest reality show. I, um, can't tell you the title because this is a family newspaper, but it's set on an island and, well, I'll let network executive Jack (Alec Baldwin) describe it for you.

"It has sex, lies, puberty, betrayals, relay races. (The show) reflects the drama of the human experience, and isn't that the essence of art?" Jack says.

Liz Lemmon (Fey), um, disagrees.

What's both hilarious and downright frightening is that this fictional reality show isn't that much more over-the-top than a lot of real reality shows. (Albeit this one more closely resembles the garbage on NBC than "Survivor," which is still sort of a top-of-the-line reality show.)

One of the contestants on the fictional show dies, for goodness' sake, in an accident involving champagne, a monkey and quicksand. Which doesn't deter anyone from watching. That doesn't seem too terrifically far-fetched these days.

As Liz says in next week's episode, "If reality TV has taught us anything, it's that you can't keep people with no shame down."

Meanwhile, "30 Rock" makes a welcome return with an episode that reminds us just how funny this show can be. It seems that someone on Liz's staff told a newspaper reporter that Jack is a "class-A moron." And when it shows up in print, it might just cost Jack the position as head of NBC's parent company, General Electric.

There are plots within plots here, stories within stories and jokes within jokes. And there's lots and lots of funny stuff.

It's also rather PG-13 in its content. Despite its early time slot, this is not a show for the whole family.

In a lot of ways, "30 Rock" is sort of "Mary Tyler Moore" for the 21st century. Like Mary Richards, Liz Lemmon is a single woman in her 30s who works in television. Her co-workers become her surrogate family — albeit a severely dysfunctional family that includes Jack, who's either brilliant or an idiot and sometimes both; Tracy (Tracy Morgan), the talented but wildly unpredictable star of the show Liz produces; Kenneth (Jack McBrayer), the perky and religious network page; Jenna (Jane Krakowski) as Tracy's co-star; just to name a few.

"Our show is a mix of a sort of realistic universe with people that you care about, hopefully, and that have real genuine relationships with each other," Fey said. "But the universe is a little bit elastic. It's a little rubbery and so it bends sometimes to go inside the craziness of Tracy's mind or into the extremes of Jack's world."

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