|Created by||Larry David
|Theme music composer||Jonathan Wolff|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||9|
|No. of episodes||180 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||22–24 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Giggling Goose Productions
Fred Barron Productions
Castle Rock Entertainment
|Distributor||Columbia Pictures Television
Columbia TriStar Television
Sony Pictures Television
|Original release||July 5, 1989 –
May 14, 1998
Seinfeld is an American television sitcom created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld for NBC. The show stars Seinfeld as a fictionalized version of himself, and mostly focuses on his personal life with a handful of friends and acquaintances, including best friend George Costanza (Jason Alexander), friend and former girlfriend Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and neighbor across the hall Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards). Seinfeld is set predominantly in an apartment building in Manhattan‘s Upper West Side in New York City. It is often described as being “a show about nothing”, as many of its episodes are about the minutiae of daily life.
Seinfeld was produced by West-Shapiro Productions and Castle Rock Entertainment and ran from 1989 to 1998. In syndication, the series is distributed by Sony Pictures Television. It was largely written by David and Seinfeld with script writers who included Larry Charles, Peter Mehlman, Gregg Kavet, Carol Leifer, David Mandel, Jeff Schaffer, Steve Koren, Jennifer Crittenden, Tom Gammill, Max Pross, Dan O’Keefe, Charlie Rubin, Marjorie Gross, Alec Berg, Elaine Pope, and Spike Feresten. A favorite among critics, the series led the Nielsen ratings in seasons six and nine, and finished among the top two (with NBC’s ER) every year from 1994 to 1998.
Seinfeld is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential sitcoms of all time. It has been ranked among the best television shows of all time in publications such as Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and TV Guide. The show’s most renowned episodes include “The Chinese Restaurant“, “The Parking Garage“, and “The Contest“. In 2013, the Writers Guild of America voted it the No. 2 Best Written TV Series of All Time (second to The Sopranos). E! named the series the “Number 1 reason the ’90s ruled”, and quotes from numerous episodes have become catchphrases in popular culture.
|Jerry Seinfeld||Jerry Seinfeld||Main|
|George Costanza||Jason Alexander||Main|
|Elaine Benes||Julia Louis-Dreyfus||Main|
|Cosmo Kramer||Michael Richards||Main|
|Morty Seinfeld||Barney Martin||Guest||Recurring|
|Helen Seinfeld||Liz Sheridan||Guest||Recurring|
|Uncle Leo||Len Lesser||Guest||Recurring||Guest||Recurring|
|Susan Ross||Heidi Swedberg||Recurring||Recurring||Guest|
|Mr. Lippman||Richard Fancy||Recurring||Recurring||Guest||Guest||Recurring|
|Ruthie Cohen||Ruth Cohen||Recurring|
|Frank Costanza||Jerry Stiller||Guest||Recurring|
|Estelle Costanza||Estelle Harris||Recurring|
|George Steinbrenner||Larry David (voice), Mitch Mitchell & Lee Bear (body)||Guest||Recurring||Guest|
|Mr. Wilhelm||Richard Herd||Recurring||Guest|
|Jacopo Peterman||John O’Hurley||Guest||Recurring|
|David Puddy||Patrick Warburton||Recurring||Recurring|
|Sue Ellen Mischke||Brenda Strong||Recurring||Guest|
|Jackie Chiles||Phil Morris||Recurring||Guest|
- Jerry Seinfeld (Jerry Seinfeld) – Jerry is a “minor celeb” stand-up comedian who is often depicted as “the voice of reason” amidst the general insanity generated by the people in his world. The in-show character is a mild germaphobe and neat freak, as well as an avid Superman, New York Mets and breakfast cereal fan. Jerry’s apartment is the center of a world visited by his eccentric friends and a focus of the show.
- Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) – Elaine is Jerry’s ex-girlfriend and later friend. She is attractive and genial, while also being humorous, arrogant and occasionally impulsive. She sometimes has a tendency to be too honest with people (usually by losing her temper), which often gets her into trouble. She usually gets caught up in her boyfriends’ quirks, eccentric employers’ unusual behaviors and idiosyncrasies, and the maladjustment of total strangers. She tends to make poor choices in men she chooses to date and is often overly reactive. First she works at Pendant Publishing with Mr. Lippman, is later hired as a personal assistant for Mr. Pitt, and later works for the J. Peterman catalogue as a glorified assistant. Elaine is popularly described as an amalgamation of David’s and Seinfeld’s girlfriends during their early days in New York as struggling comedians.
- Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards) – Kramer is Jerry’s lovable rogue neighbor. His trademarks include his humorous upright pompadour hairstyle, vintage clothes, and energetic sliding bursts through Jerry’s apartment door. Kramer was heavily based on a neighbor of David’s during his amateur comedic years in Manhattan. At times, he appears naïve, gullible, and ignorant, and at other times, intelligent, understanding, and well-read; similarly, he is exaggeratedly successful, socially, with his charisma and laid-back personality. This is seen in his success with women and employers. He has been described as a “hipster doofus”. Although he never holds a steady job, he is rarely short of money and often invents wacky schemes that often work at first then eventually fail. Kramer is longtime friends with Newman, and they work well together despite their differences.
- George Costanza (Jason Alexander) – George is Jerry’s best friend, and has been since high school. He is miserly, dishonest, petty and envious of others’ achievements. He is depicted as a loser who is perpetually insecure about his capabilities. He complains and lies easily about his profession, relationships and almost everything else, which usually creates trouble for him later. He often uses the alias Art Vandelay when lying or concocting a cover story. Despite these shortcomings, George has a sense of loyalty to his friends and success in dating women and eventually secures a successful career as Assistant to the Traveling Secretary for the New York Yankees.
Many characters have made multiple appearances, like Jerry’s nemesis Newman and his Uncle Leo. In addition to recurring characters, Seinfeld features numerous celebrities who appear as themselves or girlfriends, boyfriends, bosses and other acquaintances. Many actors who made guest appearances became household names later in their careers, or were already well known.
Many Seinfeld episodes are based on the writers’ real-life experiences, with the experiences reinterpreted for the characters’ storylines. For example, George’s storyline, “The Revenge“, is based on Larry David’s experience at Saturday Night Live. “The Contest” is also based on David’s experiences. “The Smelly Car” storyline is based on Peter Mehlman’s lawyer friend, who could not get a bad smell out of his car. “The Strike” is based on Dan O’Keefe’s dad, who made up his own holiday—Festivus. Other stories take on a variety of turns. “The Chinese Restaurant” consists of George, Jerry and Elaine waiting for a table throughout the entire episode. “The Boyfriend“, revolving around Keith Hernandez, extends through 2 episodes. “The Betrayal” is famous for using reverse chronology, and was inspired by a similar plot device in a Harold Pinter play, Betrayal. Some stories were inspired by headlines and rumors, as explained in the DVD features “Notes About Nothing”, “Inside Look”, and “Audio Commentary”. In “The Maestro“, Kramer’s lawsuit is roughly similar to the McDonald’s coffee case. “The Outing” is based primarily on rumors that Larry Charles heard about Jerry Seinfeld’s sexuality.
The series was often described as “a show about nothing”. However, Seinfeld in 2014 stated “the pitch for the show, the real pitch, when Larry and I went to NBC in 1988, was we want to show how a comedian gets his material. The show about nothing was just a joke in an episode many years later, and Larry and I to this day are surprised that it caught on as a way that people describe the show, because to us it’s the opposite of that.” Much of the show’s humor is based upon repeated use of irony, incongruity, and (oftentimes unfortunate) coincidence(s) as plot devices for many of the individual episodes’ plots and humorous moments.
Seinfeld broke several conventions of mainstream television. Larry David is credited with refusing to follow the predictable sitcom formula that would have a blossoming romantic relationship develop between Jerry and Elaine. The show offers no growth or reconciliation to its characters. It eschews sentimentality. An episode is typically driven by humor interspersed with the superficial conflicts of characters with peculiar dispositions. Many episodes revolve around the characters’ involvement in the lives of others with typically disastrous results. On the set, the notion that the characters should not develop or improve throughout the series was expressed as the “no hugging, no learning” rule. Also unlike most sitcoms, there are no moments of pathos; the audience is never made to feel sorry for any of the characters. Even Susan’s death elicits no genuine emotions from anybody in the show. Seinfeld does not shy away from making light of tough topics, from death to illness to handicaps.
The characters are “thirty-something singles with vague identities, no roots, and conscious indifference to morals”. Usual conventions, like isolating the characters from the actors playing them and separating the characters’ world from that of the actors and audience, were broken. One such example is the story arc where the characters promote a TV sitcom series named Jerry. The show within a show, Jerry, was much like Seinfeld in that it was “about nothing” and Seinfeld played himself. The fictional Jerry was launched in the season four finale, but unlike Seinfeld, it wasn’t picked up as a series. Jerry is one of many examples of metafiction in the show. There are no fewer than twenty-two fictional movies featured, like Rochelle, Rochelle. Because of these several elements, Seinfeld became the first TV series since Monty Python’s Flying Circus to be widely described as postmodern.
Jerry Seinfeld is an avid Abbott and Costello fan, and has cited the Abbott and Costello Show as an influence on Seinfeld. “Everybody on the show knows I’m a fan. We’re always joking about how we do stuff from their show. George and I will often get into a riff that has the rhythm from the old Abbott and Costello shows. And sometimes I’ll hit George in the chest the way Abbott would hit Costello.” The series includes numerous references to the team. George Costanza’s middle name is “Louis,” after Costello. “The Old Man” episode features a cantankerous character named “Sid Fields” as a tribute to the landlord on the team’s TV show. Kramer’s friend is named Mickey Abbott. A copywriter for the J. Peterman catalog is named Eddie Sherman, after the team’s longtime agent. In Episode 30, Kramer hears the famous Abbott and Costello line, “His father was a mudder. His mother was a mudder.”
Many terms were coined, popularized, or re-popularized in the series’ run and have become part of popular culture. Notable catchphrases and terms include:
- “The Elaine Dance“
- “Parking in a Car Space Forwards Without Reversing“
- “The It’s Not You It’s Me Speech“
- “The Travelling Spit“
- “Eating Your Chocolate Bar With a Knife and Fork“
- “The Opposite“
- “Hello, Newman!“
- “Poppy Didn’t Wash His Hands After He Went to the Bathroom“
- “I’ve Only Got One Rule Here. You Keep Your Hands Off My Daughter“
- “Yada, yada, yada“
- “No soup for you!“
- “These pretzels are making me thirsty“
- “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!“
- “You know, we’re living in a society!“
- “Are you master of your domain?“
- Serenity Now!
- And you want to be my Latex Salesman?
- Well, the Jerk Store called, and they’re running out of you!
The lexicon of Seinfeldian code words and recurring phrases that evolved around particular episodes is referred to as Seinlanguage, the title of Jerry Seinfeld’s best-selling book on humor.
A signature of Seinfeld is its theme music. Composed by Jonathan Wolff, it consists of distinct solo sampled bass synthesizer riffs (played on a Korg M1 synthesizer) which open the show and connect the scenes, often accompanied by beatboxing. The bass synthesizer music eventually replaced the original piano/synth music by Jep Epstein when it was played again after the first broadcast of the pilot episode. The show lacked a traditional title track and the riffs were played over the first moments of dialogue or action. They vary throughout each episode and are played in an improvised funk style. An additional musical theme with an ensemble, led by a synthesized mid-range brass instrument, ends each episode.
In “The Note“, the first episode of season three, the bumper music featured a scatting female jazz singer who sang a phrase that sounded like “easy to beat”. Jerry Seinfeld and executive producer Larry David both liked Wolff’s additions, and three episodes were produced with this new style music. However, they had neglected to inform NBC and Castle Rock executives of the change, and when the season premiere aired, the executives were surprised and unimpressed, and requested that they return to the original style. The subsequent two episodes were redone, leaving this episode as the only one with additional music elements. In the commentary of “The Note”, Louis-Dreyfus facetiously suggests it was removed because the perceived lyric related closely to the low ratings at the time.
In the final three seasons, the bits were tweaked slightly with more frantic rhythms; a bass guitar was added in addition to the sampled bass from earlier seasons. Throughout the show, the main theme could be restyled in different ways depending on the episode. For instance, in “The Betrayal”, part of which takes place in India, the theme is heard played on a sitar.
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||5||July 5, 1989||June 21, 1990||N/A||N/A|
|2||12||January 23, 1991||June 26, 1991||46||12.5|
|3||23||September 18, 1991||May 6, 1992||42||12.5|
|4||24||August 12, 1992||May 20, 1993||25||13.7|
|5||22||September 16, 1993||May 19, 1994||3||19.4|
|6||24||September 22, 1994||May 11, 1995||1||20.6|
|7||24||September 21, 1995||May 16, 1996||2||21.2|
|8||22||September 19, 1996||May 15, 1997||2||20.5|
|9||24||September 25, 1997||May 14, 1998||1||22.0|
Seinfeld stood out from family and group sitcoms of its time. The principal characters are not related by family or work connections but remain distinctively close friends throughout the series.
Many characters were based primarily on Seinfeld’s and David’s real-life acquaintances. Two prominent recurring characters were based on well-known people: Jacopo Peterman of the J. Peterman catalog (based on John Peterman), and George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees. Many characters were introduced as new writers got involved with Seinfeld. Other characters based on real people include the Soup Nazi and Jackie Chiles, who was based on Johnnie Cochran.
Seinfeld follows its own structure: story thread is presented at the beginning of every episode, which involves the characters starting in their own situations. Rapid scene-shifts between plot lines bring the stories together. Even though it does not follow a pattern as other sitcoms, the characters’ stories variously intertwine in each episode. Despite the separate plot strands, the narratives reveal the creators’ “consistent efforts to maintain the intimacy” among the small cast of characters.
The show maintains a strong sense of continuity—characters and plots from past episodes are often referenced or expanded on. Occasionally, story arcs span multiple episodes and even entire seasons, the most memorable being season four, which revolved around the pilot pitch to NBC by Jerry and George. Another example is Jerry’s girlfriend Vanessa, who appears in “The Stake Out” and he ends the relationship when things do not work out in “The Stock Tip“. Other examples are Kramer getting his jacket back and Elaine heading the “Peterman catalog”. Larry David, the head writer and executive producer for the first seven seasons, was praised for keeping a close eye on minor details and making sure the main characters’ lives remained consistent and believable. Curb Your Enthusiasm—David’s later comedy series—expanded on this idea by following a specific theme for all but one season in the series.
A major difference between Seinfeld and sitcoms which preceded it is that the principal characters never learn from their mistakes. In effect, they are indifferent and even callous towards the outside world and sometimes one another. A mantra of the show’s producers was: “No hugging, no learning”. Entertainment Weekly‘s TV critic Ken Tucker has described them as “a group dynamic rooted in jealousy, rage, insecurity, despair, hopelessness, and a touching lack of faith in one’s fellow human beings”. This leads to very few happy endings, except at somebody else’s expense. More often in every episode, situations resolve with characters getting a justly deserved comeuppance.
The show premiered as The Seinfeld Chronicles on July 5, 1989. After it aired, a pickup by NBC seemed unlikely and the show was offered to Fox, which declined to pick it up. Rick Ludwin, head of late night and special events for NBC, however, diverted money from his budget by canceling a Bob Hope television special, and the next 4 episodes were filmed. These episodes were highly rated as they followed summer re-runs of Cheers on Thursdays at 9:30 p.m., and the series was finally picked up. At one point NBC considered airing these episodes on Saturdays at 10:30 p.m., but gave that slot to a short-lived sitcom called FM. The series was renamed simply Seinfeld after the failure of short-lived 1990 ABC series The Marshall Chronicles. After airing the remaining four episodes of its first season the summer of 1990, NBC ordered thirteen more episodes. Larry David believed that he and Jerry Seinfeld had no more stories to tell, and advised Seinfeld to turn down the order, but Seinfeld agreed to the additional episodes. Season two was bumped off its scheduled premiere of January 16, 1991, due to the outbreak of the (Persian) Gulf War. It settled into a regular time slot on Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. and eventually flipped with veteran series Night Court to 9:00.
TV critics championed Seinfeld in its early seasons, even as it was slow to cultivate a substantial audience. For the first three seasons, Jerry’s stand-up comedy act would bookend an episode, even functioning as cut scenes during the show. A few episodes set a benchmark for later seasons. “The Deal” establishes Jerry and Elaine’s relationship by setting rules about sleeping together and remaining friends. “The Parking Garage” was the first episode shot with no audience for the episode and, after “The Chinese Restaurant“, with not showing Jerry’s apartment. “The Keys” contains a crossover to CBS show Murphy Brown, marking the first such cooperation between rival networks. “The Busboy” introduces George, Kramer and Elaine as having their own storylines for the first time. Although Castle Rock Entertainment’s Glenn Padnick thought Jerry Seinfeld was too generous, showcasing his co-stars’ comedic talent became a trademark throughout the series.
Larry Charles wrote an episode for season two, “The Bet”, in which Elaine buys a gun from Kramer’s friend. This episode wasn’t filmed because the content was deemed unacceptable, and was replaced by the episode “The Phone Message“. “The Stranded“, aired in season three, was intended for season two. In the beginning of this episode, Jerry clears up the continuity error over George’s real estate job.
Season four marked the sitcom’s entry into the Nielsen ratings Top 30, coinciding with several popular episodes, such as “The Bubble Boy” in which George and the bubble boy argue over Trivial Pursuit, and “The Junior Mint” in which Jerry and Kramer accidentally fumble a mint in the operating room. This was the first season to use a story arc of Jerry and George creating their own sitcom, Jerry. Also at this time, the use of Jerry’s stand-up act slowly declined, and the stand-up segment in the middle of Seinfeld episodes was cut.
Much publicity followed the controversial episode, “The Contest“, an Emmy Award-winning episode written by co-creator Larry David, whose subject matter was considered inappropriate for prime time network TV. To circumvent this taboo, the word “masturbation” was never used in the script, instead substituted for by a variety of oblique references. Midway through that season, Seinfeld was moved from its original 9:00 p.m. time slot on Wednesdays to 9:30 p.m. on Thursdays, following Cheers again, which gave the show even more popularity. Ratings also sparked the move, as Tim Allen’s sitcom Home Improvement on ABC had aired at the same time and Improvement kept beating Seinfeld in the ratings. NBC moved the series after Ted Danson announced the end of Cheers and Seinfeld quickly surpassed the ratings of the 9:00 p.m. Cheers reruns that spring. The show won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1993, beating out its family-oriented, time-slot competitor Home Improvement, which was only in its second season on rival network ABC.
Season five was an even bigger ratings-hit, consisting of popular episodes, such as “The Puffy Shirt” in which Jerry feels embarrassed wearing a “pirate” shirt on The Today Show, “The Non-Fat Yogurt” featuring Rudy Giuliani, the Republican then-mayor-elect of New York, and “The Opposite” in which George, doing the opposite of what his instincts tell him he should do, lands a job with the New York Yankees and Elaine leaves “Pendant Publishing” because of a comedy of errors that lead to its demise. Another story arc has George returning to live with his parents. In the midst of the story arc, Kramer creates and promotes his coffee table book. The show was again nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series, but lost to the Cheers spin-off Frasier, then in its first season. Seinfeld was nominated for the same award every year for its entire run but, after its win at the 45th Primetime Emmy Awards in 1994, always lost to Frasier, which went on to win a record thirty-nine Emmy Awards in its eleven-season run.
In season six, Andy Ackerman replaced Tom Cherones as director of the show. The series remained well-regarded and produced some of its most famous episodes, such as “The Beard” in which Jerry is put through a lie detector test to make him admit that he watched Melrose Place, “The Switch” in which Kramer’s mom, Babs, reveals that his first name is Cosmo, and “The Understudy” in which Elaine meets J. Peterman for the first time. Story arcs used in this season were Elaine working as a personal assistant to her eccentric boss Justin Pitt and George’s parents’ temporary separation. This was the first season in which Seinfeld reached No. 1 in the Nielsen Ratings. The use of Jerry’s stand-up act declined with the end stand-up segment no longer appearing, as the storylines for all four characters grew denser.
In season seven, a story arc involved George getting engaged to his ex-girlfriend, Susan Ross, after the pilot Jerry proved unsuccessful. In it, George spends most of the season regretting and trying to get out of the engagement. Along with the regular half-hour episodes, two notable one-hour episodes were “The Cadillac” in which George plans to date award-winning actor Marisa Tomei and “The Bottle Deposit” with Elaine and Sue Ellen participating in a bidding war to buy JFK’s golf clubs in an auction.
The show’s ratings were still going strong in its final two seasons. Larry David left at the end of season seven, although he continued to voice Steinbrenner, so Seinfeld assumed David’s duties as showrunner, and, under the direction of a new writing staff, Seinfeld became a faster-paced show. The show no longer contained extracts of Jerry performing stand-up comedy—Jerry had no time or energy for this with his new responsibilities—and storylines occasionally delved into fantasy and broad humor. For example, in “The Bizarro Jerry“, Elaine is torn between exact opposites of her friends and Jerry dates a woman who has the now-famed “man hands”. Some notable episodes from season eight include “The Little Kicks” showing Elaine’s horrible dancing, and “The Chicken Roaster” which portrays the Kenny Rogers Roasters chicken restaurant which opened during that time. A story arc in this season involves Peterman going to Burma in “The Foundation“ until he recovered from a nervous breakdown in “The Money“, followed by Elaine writing Peterman’s biography in “The Van Buren Boys“, which leads to Kramer’s parody of Kenny Kramer’s Reality Tour seen in “The Muffin Tops“.
The final season included episodes like “The Merv Griffin Show” in which Kramer converts his apartment into a talk-show studio and plays the character of talk-show host, “The Betrayal” that presents in reverse chronological order what happened to Sue Ellen’s wedding in India, and “The Frogger” in which George pushes a Frogger machine across the street, mimicking the action of the game itself. The last season included a story arc in which Elaine has an on/off relationship with Puddy. Despite the enormous popularity and willingness of the cast to return for a tenth season, Seinfeld decided to end the show after season nine, believing he would thereby be able to ensure the show would maintain its quality and go out on top. NBC offered him over $100 million for a tenth season, but Seinfeld declined.
A major controversy caused in this final season was the accidental burning of a Puerto Rican flag by Kramer in “The Puerto Rican Day“. This scene caused a furor among Puerto Ricans, and as a result, NBC showed this episode only once. Jerry Seinfeld defused the protestors by not letting this episode continue in syndication, as revealed in “Inside Look” on DVD. However, the episode would be added to the syndicated rerun package several years later uncut.
After nine years on the air, NBC and Jerry Seinfeld announced on December 25, 1997, that the series would end production the following spring in 1998. The announcement made the front page of the major New York newspapers, including the New York Times. Jerry Seinfeld was featured on the cover of Time magazine’s first issue of 1998. The series ended with a seventy-five-minute episode (cut to 60 minutes in syndication, in two parts) written by co-creator and ex-executive producer Larry David, which aired on May 14, 1998. Before the finale, a forty-five-minute retrospective clip show, “The Chronicle“, was aired. The retrospective was expanded to an hour after the original airing and aired again on NBC as an hour-long episode, and has since aired in syndication.
It was the first episode since the finale of season seven, “The Invitations“, to feature opening and closing stand-up comedy acts by Jerry Seinfeld. The finale was filmed before an audience of NBC executives and friends of the show. The press and public were shut out of the taping in order to keep its plot secret; those who attended the shoot of the final episode were required to sign written “vows of silence”. The secrecy only seemed to increase speculation about how the series would end. The producers of the show tweaked the media about the hype, spreading a false rumor about Newman ending up in the hospital and Jerry and Elaine sitting in a chapel, presumably to marry.
The final episode enjoyed a historic audience, estimated at 76.3 million viewers (58% of all viewers that night) making it the fourth most watched regular series finale in U.S. TV history, behind M*A*S*H, Cheers and The Fugitive. However, the finale received mixed reviews from critics and fans of the show. The finale poked fun at the many rumors that were circulating, seeming to move into multiple supposed plots before settling on its true storyline—a lengthy trial where the gang is prosecuted for violating a “Duty to Rescue” law and sentenced to prison terms.
According to Forbes magazine, Jerry Seinfeld’s earnings from the show in 1998 came to US$267 million, including syndication earnings. He refused NBC’s offer of $5 million per episode, or over $100 million total, to continue the show into a tenth season. The offer NBC made to Seinfeld was over three times higher per episode than anyone on TV had ever been offered before. Seinfeld told the network that he was not married nor had children, and wished to focus on his personal life. As reported in July 2007, he was the second-highest earner in the TV industry, earning at the time $60 million a year. The show became the first TV series to command over $1 million a minute for advertising–a mark previously attained only by the Super Bowl.
According to Barry Meyer, chairman of Warner Bros. Entertainment, Seinfeld made $2.7 billion through June 2010. As of February 2017 the show has made an estimated $4.06 billion in syndication. Steve Bannon, who invested in the show, later said, “We calculated what it would get us if it made it to syndication. We were wrong by a factor of five”. In September 2019, it was announced Viacom had acquired cable syndication rights to the series, with it airing on Paramount Network, Comedy Central and TV Land beginning in October 2021.
Seinfeld began as a twenty-three-minute pilot titled The Seinfeld Chronicles. Created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, developed by NBC executive Rick Ludwin, and produced by Castle Rock Entertainment, it was a mix of Seinfeld’s stand-up comedy routines and idiosyncratic, conversational scenes focusing on mundane aspects of everyday life like laundry, the buttoning of the top button on one’s shirt and the effort by men to properly interpret the intent of women spending the night in Seinfeld’s apartment.
The pilot was filmed at Stage 8 of Desilu Cahuenga studios, the same studio where The Dick Van Dyke Show was filmed (this was seen by the crew as a good omen), and was recorded at Ren-Mar Studios in Hollywood. The pilot was first screened to a group of two dozen NBC executives in Burbank, California in early 1989. It didn’t yield the explosion of laughter garnered by the pilots for the decade’s previous NBC successes like The Cosby Show and The Golden Girls. Brandon Tartikoff was not convinced that the show would work. A Jewish man from New York himself, Tartikoff characterized it as “Too New York, too Jewish” (a sentiment which would also lead to the Cosmo character’s later surname change from the more Jewish-sounding Kessler to Kramer). Test audiences were even harsher. NBC’s practice at the time was to recruit 400 households by phone to ask them to evaluate pilots it aired on an unused channel on its cable system. An NBC research department memo summarized the pilot’s performance among the respondents as “weak”, which Warren Littlefield, then second-in-command in NBC’s entertainment division, called “a dagger to the heart”. Comments included, “You can’t get too excited about two guys going to the laundromat”; “Jerry’s loser friend George isn’t a forceful character”; “Jerry needs a stronger supporting cast”; and “Why are they interrupting the stand-up for these stupid stories?” Seinfeld and David didn’t see the memo for several years, but after they became aware of it, they hung it in a bathroom on the set. Seinfeld comments, “We thought, if someone goes in to use this bathroom, this is something they should see. It fits that moment.”
Around the time the show’s pilot was filmed, Castle Rock Entertainment, which produced the show, had also produced another pilot for NBC that featured Ann Jillian in her almost-similarly eponymous TV series. After The Seinfeld Chronicles tested poorly among audiences, Castle Rock then devoted their focus to Jillian’s series, which tested better with audiences and received a full-season order. Ann Jillian would last only a single season of 13 episodes and would be off the air by the end of 1990.
When NBC announced its 1989–90 primetime schedule in May 1989, The Seinfeld Chronicles was not included, but supporters of the show didn’t give up on it. The pilot first aired on July 5, 1989, and finished second in its time slot against the CBS police drama Jake and the Fatman, receiving a Nielsen rating of 10.9/19. The ratings didn’t exhibit regional skew that Tartikoff predicted, much to the encouragement of the show’s supporters. Despite the poor test results, Ludwin cancelled one of the Bob Hope specials budgeted for that season so that the entertainment division had the money to order four more episodes of The Seinfeld Chronicles, which formed the rest of the show’s first season (the series was by then retitled to just Seinfeld); a move without which Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rosenthal later stated there would be no Seinfeld. Although this was a very low order number for a new series (the smallest sitcom order in TV history), Castle Rock failed to find any other buyers when it shopped the show to other networks, and accepted the order. The show was renamed simply Seinfeld, but it wouldn’t return to the airwaves until May 30, 1990, and it would be another three years before it became a Top 5-rated show. Preston Beckman, who was in charge of NBC’s research department at the time, reminisced, “The show was different. Nobody had seen anything like it. It wasn’t unusual for poor-testing shows to get on the air, but it was very rare that they became hits.”
When it was first repeated on July 5, 1990, it received a rating of 13.9/26. These ratings were high enough to secure a second season. NBC research showed that the show was popular with young male adults, a demographic sought after by advertisers. This gave NBC an incentive to keep broadcasting the show. One DVD reviewer, Britt Gillette, wrote that “this initial episode exhibits the flashes of brilliance that made Seinfeld a cultural phenomenon.”
There are two high-definition versions of Seinfeld. The first is that of the network TV (non-syndicated) versions in the original aspect ratio of 4:3 that were downscaled for the DVD releases. Syndicated broadcast stations and the cable network TBS began airing the syndicated version of Seinfeld in HD. Unlike the version used for the DVD, Sony Pictures cropped the top and bottom parts of the frame, while restoring previously cropped images on the sides, from the 35mm film source, to use the entire 16:9 frame.
Reception and legacy
Elizabeth Magnotta and Alexandra Strohl analyze the success of Seinfeld with recourse to the incongruity theory of humor: “The Incongruity Theory claims that humor is created out of a violation of an expectation. For humor to result from this unexpected result, the event must have an appropriate emotional climate, comprised of the setting, characters, prior discourse, relationships of the characters, and the topic.” Specifically, Magnotta and Strohl focus on “The Marine Biologist“, where George is embroiled in yet another lie, and on “The Red Dot“, where George tries to save a few dollars at Elaine’s expense by giving her a marked-down cashmere sweater.
Seinfeld has not reached the same level of popularity around the globe as it has reached in America. In “Translating Seinfeld”, Jennifer Armstrong notes that Seinfeld’s unique style of humor is apparently “too cultural and word-based to make for easy translation”. Carol Iannone sums up the legacy of this American hit in her Modern Age article “Seinfeld: The Politically Incorrect Comedy” when she says, “It may be the first situation comedy truly to achieve the status of art”.
Nod Miller, of the University of East London, has discussed the self-referential qualities of the show:
Seinfeld is suffused with postmodern themes. To begin with, the boundary between reality and fiction is frequently blurred: this is illustrated in the central device of having Jerry Seinfeld play the character Jerry Seinfeld. In the show’s fourth season, several episodes revolved around the narrative of Jerry and George (whose character is co-creator Larry David’s alter ego) pitching ‘a show about nothing’ based on the everyday life of a stand-up comedian to NBC. The reaction of the fictional NBC executives, by all accounts, mirrored the initial responses of those who eventually commissioned Seinfeld. The fourth season ends with ‘The Pilot’, an episode focusing on the casting, taping and screening of the show-within-the-show, Jerry. This episode also illustrates neatly the self-referential quality which is one of Seinfeld’s hallmarks. The series finale was so replete with references to earlier shows as to render it largely incomprehensible to those not already well-versed in the personae and preoccupations of the Seinfeld universe.
William Irwin has edited an anthology of scholarly essays on philosophy in Seinfeld and Philosophy: A Book about Everything and Nothing. Some entries include “The Jerry Problem and the Socratic Problem“, “George’s Failed Zest for Happiness: An Aristotelian Analysis”, “Elaine’s Moral Character”, “Kramer the ‘Seducer'”, “Making Something Out of Nothing: Seinfeld, Sophistry and the Tao”, “Seinfeld, Subjectivity, and Sartre“, “Mr. Peterman, the Wicked Witch of the West, and Me”, and “Minimally Decent Samaritans and Uncommon Law”.
U.S. television ratings
|Season||TV season||Episodes||Timeslot||Original air dates||Nielsen ratings||Most watched episode|
|Season premiere||Season finale||Rank||Rating||Viewers
|1||1989–90||5||Wednesday at 9:30 pm (Episode 1)
Thursday at 9:30 pm (Episodes 2-5)
|July 5, 1989||June 21, 1990||N/A||N/A||19.26||“The Stake Out“||22.5|
|2||1990–91||12||Wednesday at 9:30 pm (Episodes 1–4, 12)
Thursday at 9:30 pm (Episodes 5-11)
|January 23, 1991||June 26, 1991||#46||12.5||18.07||“The Apartment“||24.7|
|3||1991–92||23||Wednesday at 9:30 pm (Episodes 1–11, 18)
Wednesday at 9:00 pm (Episodes 12–17, 19–23)
|September 18, 1991||May 6, 1992||#42||12.5||17.66||“The Letter“||22.3|
|4||1992–93||24||Wednesday at 9:00 pm (Episodes 1–3, 5–15)
Wednesday at 9:30 pm (Episode 4)
Thursday at 9:30 pm (Episodes 16–22)
Thursday at 8:00 pm (Episode 23)
Thursday at 8:30 pm (Episode 24)
|August 12, 1992||May 20, 1993||#25||13.7||20.91||“The Pilot“||32.8|
|5||1993–94||22||Thursday at 9:00 pm (Episodes 1–18, 20–22)
Thursday at 9:30 pm (Episode 19)
|September 16, 1993||May 19, 1994||#3||19.6||29.59||“The Stall” and “The Marine Biologist“||35.0|
|6||1994–95||24||Thursday at 9:00 pm (Episodes 1–14, 16–24)
Thursday at 9:30 pm (Episode 15)
|September 22, 1994||May 18, 1995||#1||20.6||30.06||“The Switch“||36.6|
|7||1995–96||24||Thursday at 9:00 pm (Episodes 1–14, 16–21, 23–24)
Thursday at 9:30 pm (Episodes 15, 22)
|September 21, 1995||May 16, 1996||#2||21.2||33.19||“The Engagement“||37.6|
|8||1996–97||22||Thursday at 9:00 pm||September 19, 1996||May 15, 1997||#2||20.5||32.48||“The Money“||37.3|
|9||1997–98||24||Thursday at 9:00 pm (Episodes 1–20, 23)
Thursday at 8:00 pm (Episode 21)
Thursday at 8:30 pm (Episode 22)
Thursday at 9:30 pm (Episode 24)
|September 25, 1997||May 14, 1998||#1||22.0||38.03
(“The Puerto Rican Day“)
Awards and nominations
Seinfeld has received awards and nominations in various categories throughout the mid-1990s. It was awarded the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1993, Golden Globe Award for Best TV-Series (Comedy) in 1994 and Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series in 1995, 1997 and 1998. Apart from these, the show was also nominated for an Emmy award from 1992 to 1998 for Outstanding Comedy series, Golden Globe award from 1994 to 1998 for Best TV-Series (Comedy), and Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series from 1995 to 1998.
TV Guide named it the greatest TV show of all time in 2002 and in 2013, the magazine ranked it as the second greatest TV show. A 2015 The Hollywood Reporter survey of 2,800 actors, producers, directors, and other industry people named Seinfeld as their #5 favorite show.
A recurring feature of Seinfeld was its inclusion of specific products, especially candy, as plot points. These might be a central feature of a plot (e.g., Junior Mints, Twix, Chuckles, Jujyfruits, bite size Three Musketeers, Snickers, Nestlé Chunky, Oh Henry!, Drake’s Coffee Cake and PEZ), or an association of candy with a guest character (e.g. Oh Henry! bars) or simply a conversational aside (e.g., Chuckles, Clark Bar, Twinkies). A large number of non-candy products were also featured throughout the series.
The show’s creators claim that they weren’t engaging in a product placement strategy for commercial gain. One motivation for the use of real-world products, quite unrelated to commercial considerations, is the comedy value of funny-sounding phrases and words. “I knew I wanted Kramer to think of watching the operation like going to see a movie”, explained Seinfeld writer/producer Andy Robin in an interview published in The Hollywood Reporter. “At first, I thought maybe a piece of popcorn falls into the patient. I ran that by my brother, and he said, ‘No, Junior Mints are just funnier.'”
Many advertisers capitalized on the popularity of Seinfeld. American Express created a webisode where Jerry Seinfeld and an animated Superman (voiced by Patrick Warburton, who played the role of Puddy) starred in its commercial. The makers of the Today Sponge created the “Spongeworthy” game, on their website, inspired by “The Sponge“. An advertisement featured Jason Alexander in a Chrysler commercial. In this, Alexander acts much like his character George, and his relationship with Lee Iacocca plays on his George’s relationship with Steinbrenner. Similarly, Michael Richards was the focus of a series of advertisements for Vodafone which ran in Australia where he dressed and acted exactly like Kramer, including the trademark bumbling pratfalls.
In addition, the show occasionally incorporated fictional products like a Scotch brand called “Hennigan’s” (a portmanteau of “Hennessy” and “Brannigans“) and a canned meat product called “Beef-a-reeno” (a parody of “Beef-a-roni“).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released all nine seasons of Seinfeld on DVD in Regions 1, 2 and 4 between 2004 and 2007. On November 6, 2007, Seinfeld: The Complete Series was released on DVD. The complete series box set includes a 2007 “roundtable” reunion of the four main cast members and Larry David; only highlights of this were also included in the Season 9 set.
|DVD name||Release dates|
|Region 1||Region 2||Region 4|
|Vol 1: Seasons 1 & 2||November 23, 2004||November 1, 2004||October 13, 2004|
|Vol 2: Season 3||November 23, 2004||November 1, 2004||October 18, 2004|
|Vol 3: Season 4||May 17, 2005||June 13, 2005||May 25, 2005|
|Vol 4: Season 5||November 22, 2005||November 28, 2005||November 23, 2005|
|Vol 5: Season 6||November 22, 2005||November 28, 2005||November 23, 2005|
|Vol 6: Season 7||November 21, 2006||November 20, 2006||November 8, 2006|
|Vol 7: Season 8||June 5, 2007||June 4, 2007||June 13, 2007|
|Vol 8: Season 9||November 6, 2007||November 19, 2007||October 24, 2007|
On April 29, 2015, it was officially announced, during Hulu‘s upfronts presentation in New York, that all nine seasons of Seinfeld would be available for online streaming, via the video service, starting in June 2015. The news was first reported by Deadline and Variety, citing the deal at around $130 million to $180 million. On May 20, 2015, Hulu announced that every episode would be available starting June 24, 2015.
Prime Video (UK)
In January 2017, Amazon acquired the UK rights to all seasons of Seinfeld for its Prime Video streaming service.
On November 8, 2016, the Australian streaming service Stan announced via Twitter that later in the week all episodes would be available to stream for the first time in Australia. All episodes were available from November 11, 2016 with the remastered versions of all episodes on the service featuring HD and Widescreen enhancements. The widescreen offered was cropped from the original 4:3 format negatives, thus resulting in better visual quality than the previously available DVD version, however, the top and bottom portions of the frame were cut out to achieve the widescreen aspect ratio.
In September 2019, Netflix and Sony Pictures announced that Netflix had acquired the exclusive global streaming rights for Seinfeld, starting in 2021, superseding the above Hulu and Amazon rights. When it airs, Netflix’s version of Seinfeld will be available in 4K resolution via a new scan from the original 35mm film source.
On the November 1, 2007, episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Jerry Seinfeld mentioned the possibility of shooting one last scene, after the characters leave jail. He mentioned that he was too busy to do it at the time, but didn’t announce what the scene would entail, as its production isn’t a certainty.
In commentary from the final season DVD, Seinfeld outlines that he and Jason Alexander spoke about this scene being in Monk’s Cafe, with George saying “That was brutal” in reference to the foursome’s stint in prison.
On an episode of Saturday Night Live that Jerry Seinfeld hosted on October 2, 1999, a sketch was produced that showed what life was like for Jerry behind bars after being transferred to the fictional prison portrayed on the HBO series Oz. The roughly four-minute sketch shows the opening credits for the HBO series with clips of Jerry mixed in doing various activities around the prison. The sketch continues and mixes in different story lines from both Oz and Seinfeld and has Jerry interacting with various characters from the show in his typical quick-witted, sarcastic way.
The Seinfeld “curse”
Louis-Dreyfus, Alexander, and Richards have all tried to launch new sitcoms as title-role characters. Almost every show was canceled quickly, usually within the first season. This gave rise to the term Seinfeld curse: the failure of a sitcom starring one of the three, despite the conventional wisdom that each person’s Seinfeld popularity should almost guarantee a strong, built-in audience for the actor’s new show. Shows specifically cited regarding the Seinfeld curse are Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Watching Ellie, Jason Alexander’s Bob Patterson and Listen Up!, and Michael Richards’ The Michael Richards Show.
This phenomenon was mentioned throughout the second season of Larry David‘s HBO program Curb Your Enthusiasm, which aired in 2001. In real life, David has repeatedly dismissed the idea of a curse, saying, “It’s so completely idiotic. It’s very hard to have a successful sitcom.”
The success of Louis-Dreyfus in the 2006-2010 CBS sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine, which included winning the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 2006, led many to believe that she had broken the curse. In her acceptance speech, Louis-Dreyfus held up her award and exclaimed, “I’m not somebody who really believes in curses, but curse this, baby!” The show produced enough episodes to air in reruns in syndication for several years, something the other shows did not achieve. The Saturday Night Live episode guest-hosted by Louis-Dreyfus made references to the curse. She went on to win six further Lead Actress in a Comedy Emmys for her acclaimed performance as Vice President Selina Meyer in the HBO comedy series Veep.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Early in March 2009, it was announced that the Seinfeld cast would reunite for season seven of Curb Your Enthusiasm. The cast first appeared in the third episode of the season, all playing their real life selves. The season-long story is that Larry David tries to initiate a Seinfeld reunion show as a ploy to get his ex-wife, Cheryl, back. Along with the four main characters, some Seinfeld supporting actors like Wayne Knight, Estelle Harris and Steve Hytner appeared in the ninth episode at a table read for the reunion show. Though much dialogue in Curb Your Enthusiasm is improvised, the plot was scripted, and the Seinfeld special that aired within the show was scripted and directed by Seinfeld regular Andy Ackerman, making this the first time since Seinfeld went off the air that the central cast appeared together in a scripted show.
Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander and Wayne Knight, playing their respective Seinfeld characters, appeared in a spot presented during halftime of Super Bowl XLVIII on February 2, 2014. FOX came up with the idea of doing such a spot, due in part to the Super Bowl’s location being New York that year. An uncut version appeared on Crackle.com immediately afterward, as an episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee titled “The Over-Cheer”. Although the spot was used to advertise Seinfeld’s web series, it was not considered a commercial, as Sony, which produces the series, did not pay for it. Seinfeld has indicated that he thinks the webisode will probably be the last cast reunion, saying, “I have a feeling you’ve seen the final coda on that very unique experience.” Since then, Michael Richards and Julia Louis-Dreyfus have also appeared in episodes.
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