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January 30, 2013

Slate: How Tina Fey changed TV

As the final episode of "30 Rock" approaches and America prepares to bid its harried, comedy-star-herding heroine a last blerg-bye, Liz Lemon is already being celebrated by the media as one of the more memorable female characters in the history of television. Tributes are being paid. Lists of her memorable quotes have been assembled. Her image recently appeared in the supporting Lois Lane role on the cover of Rolling Stone, prompting outraged blog posts because — hello? — Liz Lemon, not Jack Donaghy, is our Superman.

None of this is surprising. While the audience for "30 Rock" was never massive, among many affection for the show and Liz Lemon has always run deep. From the moment Lemon first appeared in the 2006 "30 Rock" pilot, bought every hot dog from a street vendor's stand to shut up a rude New York businessman, then gave away those wieners to the tune of a song reminiscent of the theme from "That Girl," we have expected Liz Lemon and Tina Fey, the show's creator and Lemon's real-life alter ego, to usher in a fresh, fruitful era for funny ladies on television.

If our Tina — first female head writer for "Saturday Night Live" and the stinging satirist behind the movie "Mean Girls" — could be put in charge of her own show about a woman who's also in charge of her own show, then surely this would lead to a TV landscape in which, to borrow the title of Fey's book, a lot of ladies would soon be walking across our LED screens wearing bossypants. At least that was the hope. Now, with all 138 "30 Rock" episodes in the can and just that one final send-off left to air, this seems like a good time to ask: Did the existence of Liz Lemon actually change anything for women on television?

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