The Meme-ification of the TV Wedding

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Fictional ceremonies, like real ones, are going for viral moments rather than fairy-tale opulence.

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NBC

In a twist as jarring in the world of 30 Rock as, say, a revelation that it all took place in a snow globe, or that everybody was already dead, Tina Fey's tragically unlucky-in-love heroine is actually getting married, to James Marsden's dimpled and endearingly goofy Criss Chros.

Over its seven seasons, 30 Rock has made a running joke out of the hapless attempts of Liz Lemon, a single, head writer of a national sketch TV show, to "have it all": a good job, a healthy love life, and a family. Whether she's foiling a rom-com-ready moment by wolfing down a sandwich in the security line on her way to chase down her beau at the airport or entering into a relationship with a little person she met when she mistook him for a child and patted his head, Lemon's failures in pursuit of the perfect work-life balance have spawned viral videos, memorable dialogue, and thrust the character to the status of modern feminist icon.

30 Rock fans will have to wait until tonight to see how the Lemon-Chros nuptials unfurl—or if this is going to be a Brandon-and-Kelly-style fakeout. But given Lemon's 30 Rock history and Fey's sense of humor, it's a safe bet that this isn't going to be a fairy-tale wedding. In fact, it very well could be the starkest example yet of the evolution of how weddings play out on network TV. Gone are the days, it seems, of ceremonies so opulent and sweepingly romantic that Jane Austen would swoon. Here are the days when Liz Lemon—she of blergh and night cheese—has a 30 Rock-style wedding.

For much of TV history, weddings on TV shows reflected all the extravagance wide-eyed young girls dream of. An astonishing 30 million viewers tuned in to see Luke and Laura's grand affair on General Hospital in 1981, perhaps the most sun-kissed, teased-hair, poofy-dressed TV wedding up to that point. The weddings of Amanda and Prince Paul on Dynasty, David and Donna on Beverly Hills: 90210, and even ones on more blue-collar series like Rhoda and Happy Days were exorbitantly styled as if taken directly from the pages of a bridal magazine. Moving towards the new millennium, the weddings of Monica and Chandler on Friends or Robby and Amy on Everybody Loves Raymond resembled the societal norm of a "nice wedding": expensive reception hall, impeccably tailored dress, live music, and so on.

But this is 2012, and that societal norm is, at least through my anecdotal research, changing. Dreams have been downsized, and so have the weddings. Designer gowns and picturesque halls booked years in advance bear less importance to newlyweds. Thanks to Facebook, YouTube, and the age of social media, memories aren't bought with money anymore, they're made with creativity—and then made viral. Adorable musical theater-style proposals are captured on tape, posted online, and quickly elicit the awws of millions of web users, not just the few of those who happened to be in attendance. Choreographed wedding dances and bridal party flash mobs continue to drum up YouTube clicks. The memory has gone the way of the meme.

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This trend is being mirrored in weddings as they play out on TV, too. It's not that wedding episodes of popular series have less "event" status than before. The marriage of two favorite characters is as cherished a TV moment for fans as ever. But how series are portraying these weddings seems to be increasingly influenced by this societal movement.

Jim and Pam's wedding on The Office is a prime example of this. The episode made a viral moment by actually recreating a viral video—the one where a bridal party dances down the aisle to Chris Brown's "Forever." But the heartwarming pseudo-elopement that happened just minutes before in the episode, Jim and Pam run away to the Maid of the Mist and get married alone underneath Niagara Falls, ended up being a scene that was just as memorable.

On Parks and Recreation, April and Andy had a surprise wedding, during which Andy wore a sports jersey and cargo pants. Ask TV fans which was more memorable, that highly unusual, highly entertaining reception, or the more traditional weddings that aired on One Tree Hill or Smallville that same season, and they'll likely vote overwhelmingly in favor of April and Andy's pop-up affair.

Even when Grey's Anatomy finally decided to have Meredith and Derek—up there among the decade's most popular will-they-or-won't-they couples—make it official, the series didn't give them the bells-and-whistles wedding that viewers may have expected. Instead, Meredith and Derek got married on a post-it that they stuck to a wall. In the age of Facebook, two of TV's most popular characters got married, literally, with a wall post.

Previous 30 Rock weddings have included Tina Fey performing an acoustic ballad at a church altar and a bride named "Feyonce." A recent engagement scene featured a cross-dressing man descending from the rafters while singing "Zou Bisou Bisou." Suffice it to say, then, the Liz Lemon's nuptials probably won't include flower girls, the dramatic releasing of doves, tear-jerking vows, and copious amounts of orchids.

It remains to be seen what brand of ridiculousness the wedding will include, but if it follows the recent trend in TV weddings—not to mention 30 Rock's history—it will likely blend earnestness with a touch of cynicism and maybe some sarcasm. To borrow from Liz Lemon, "I want to go to there."

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Kevin Fallon is a reporter for the Daily Beast. He's a former entertainment editor at TheWeek.com and former writer and producer for The Atlantic's entertainment channel.

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