SEINFELD is one of the very few shows to truly have a VOICE. The show created its own world. It’s own logic. It set its own rules – primarily by shattering existing ones. Contrivances, conveniences, stories about nothing, characters never growing or learning, Jews – SEINFELD shattered all the taboos.
In today’s television landscape I don’t know what’s harder – coming up with an inspired vision or holding onto it. There is SO much interference these days, so many notes from so many people. Just remembering what your vision was takes a Herculean effort.
Quick aside: years ago my partner, David, and I were doing a pilot for Paramount. After the network runthrough we got the requisite blizzard of notes from the network and studio brass and suddenly the Paramount Facilities Manager weighs in with a bunch of lines and moments that “concerned” him. WTF?? I was pissed. I gently stopped him and said, “Excuse me, do I tell you which stage to assign?”
SEINFELD is exactly the kind of comedy networks say they want and should be airing but they’ve now created an interference infrastructure that makes it impossible to mount the next one.
Consider SEINFELD’s origin. In the late 80’s, Jerry Seinfeld was a frequent guest host of the TONIGHT SHOW. NBC thought he might make a good candidate to replace Johnny Carson after he had retired. They wanted to keep Jerry in the fold. To throw him a bone they let him have a situation comedy. The original order was for six. Jerry chose sitcom neophyte, Larry David to create and run it. The network didn’t really care. It was just an exercise anyway. (At first he was paired with sitcom vet, Fred Barron but that lasted maybe eleven seconds.)
They made the six episodes. The network hated them. The testing came back. Lowest EVER. The network buried the show. They waited a year to air them. But the response wasn’t horrible (among the very few people who even saw them, buried in a bad time slot), Carson was still hanging on, Jerry was getting antsy, so NBC ordered a few more.
And so it went for a few years. Positive buzz started building as people discovered this gem of a show and when the network moved it to Thursdays at 9:30 behind top rated CHEERS it really took off. And then of course, all these network executives who hated it, never understood it, and tried to kill it now took credit for it.
Hatching a successful sitcom is like winning the lottery. So many things have to fall in place, so many amazing people have to all be available to come together at the same time. What if Jason Alexander happened to be attached to another pilot? What if Larry David didn’t know Michael Richards from their days together on ABC’S FRIDAYS? What if Larry David were writing a movie and didn’t have time to create a TV show? Or if Carson wasn’t planning to retire? Or if NBC thought Johnny’s heir apparent should be Gallagher?
I marvel at SEINFELD. It’s hilarious, it’s inspired, it’s revolutionary, but most of all, it was given a rare opportunity (maybe one that will never come again) and it DELIEVERED. It truly was the “master of its own domain”.