The American public is often molded by the television it watches. Many debates center on whether television mimics life, or life mimics television. For one historically successful show, there was no question about the order of events. “The Seinfeld Show” was built around the premise that everyday life can be entertaining. “The Seinfeld Show” became one of the biggest sitcom successes in television history and the cast decided to end it and walk away while it was still on top. Many things made it the success that it was including content, timing and cast.
If one ever wants an example of the way television history is created they only have to look at “The Seinfeld Show”. It first aired in 1989 and nobody expected it to be noticed, much less worshipped for nine television years. The first showing was a rejected pilot that the network put in as a burn up slot just to use the time during summer rerun season. It was called the Seinfeld Chronicles at the time and it was really a work in progress according to those who were there(Sauter, 2002). The characters were underdeveloped, the plot was all over the place and the network never expected positive feed back from the burn out slot.
Kramer was named Kessler, and Elaine was not even invented yet. And as often happens in television history, there was no rhyme or reason for it to happen, but it did. The network had stumbled across a gold mine of success (Sauter, 2002). The critics went wild following the first show. They had never seen a show about nothing, and it was refreshing after the many sitcoms that seemed to be about nothing but still came off sounding preachy. “The good reviews didn’t hurt”, says George Shapiro, one of the show’s executive producers and Seinfeld’s manager.
But what really saved it was that “everyone liked Jerry. They wanted him on NBC. ” The show got a second chance with a four-episode run in summer 1990. The newly named Seinfeld impressed the network enough to be brought back as a midseason replacement in January 1991. This time it stuck. Returning for its first full season that September, Seinfeld ascended to the Nielsen top 10 by fall 1993(Sauter, 2002). In its nine years on the air, Seinfeld won 10 Emmys and introduced “shrinkage,” “spongeworthy,” and “master of your domain” into the national lexicon (Sauter, 2002).
The show enjoyed nine years of stratospheric success before Jerry Seinfeld pulled the plug and walked away. He felt it was important to quit on top. A new show, Frasier, had been nipping at the heels of Seinfeld’s Nielsen ratings. At the end, Seinfeld was pulling in $1 million per episode, and his co-stars received a $600,000 per show paycheck. The success of the show has been studied worldwide in art, business and production classes. Many things made it the success that it was, and a combination of factors made it a television historical landmark.
While the show was wildly successful its namesake never won an Emmy for it. He was later asked what he thought of the Emmys and replied: “The Emmys are … stupid,” he said recently in a concert. “They’re there so that attention-starved losers can all congratulate each other on having a job(Brioux, 2001). ” This didn’t stop the show itself from racking up prizes. Over the course of its nine-year run The Seinfeld Show received ten Emmys and countless nominations. The show was historically significant in many areas including economics.
At its height it commanded several million dollars per 30-second commercial segment. With 169 total shows airing over the course of the seasons that added up to a tremendous amount of paid advertising dollars(Bark, 1998). THE SHOW’S SUCCESS The show was viewed by almost 40 million viewers each week at its all time high and never dropped below 9 million viewers per week(Shaw, 1996). The four main characters, Elaine, Jerry, George and Kramer, became legendary across the globe. The deal was cut, however, for Jerry to enjoy the profits of the show while the other three received talent pay only.
Jason Alexander, who played George, admitted at the height of the show’s success that it was a bone of contention for the cast, but it was the way the deal had been cut before the stardom rocket took off. When asked why the show was so successful experts point to the age of the targeted audience it served. It was a show about nothing, but the everyday nothing events in the lives of people born between 1945 and 1964(Kitman, 1998). Another aspect of the show’s success was the fact that it was set in an urban area.
Millions of Americans live outside of urban areas and are fascinated with the urban lifestyle. Seinfeld brought them to the city, and showed them the humorous aspects of living there without ever making them leave the comfort of their easy chair(Kitman, 1998). “Seinfeld” was to the intellectual in the 1990s what “Happy Days” was to the common man in the 1970s(Kitman, 1998). It took the once private experiences of the educated middle class, urban manners and foibles, including those of the human body, out of the closet and subjected them to endless scrutiny.
Where else could you hear a profound discussion about good pickles, the pain of happily or unhappily unmarrieds having to go out to the suburbs to hear their friends kvell over their new babies, the best route to JFK, the contents of Jerry’s refrigerator or his obsessions with Superman and Hitler(Kitman, 1998)? ” Experts who have studied the historically successful show point to several factors that made it what it was. One of the first things that appealed to the audience is that it made them laugh. The world is a stressful place and people are rushing from work, to little league to the nursing home to visit parents and other places.
By the time they get home their stress level is higher than they were comfortable with(Zoglin, 1992). Turning on the Seinfeld Show allowed the audience to enjoy laughing and mind numbing entertainment. In addition the show was about the stupid things in life that people don’t stop to think about but once they are pointed out they are appreciated for their comedic components. The show was a regular reminder of the mundane things that everybody has to do. Whether the show centered on Jerry visiting his parents, Elaine getting dumped or George losing more hair, each one contained truths and life events that have been faced by everyone.
Another thing that made the show so successful is that it never asked the tough questions. According to those charged with analyzing it, the show’s insistence on staying away from emotional subjects helped keep it light and comfortable for the viewing audience(Zoglin, 1992). When it did make a pass at a sensitive issue it did so with real life elements. In one show, where the stars attended a funeral, Jerry was preoccupied with getting some sport tickets, while Elaine was trying to catch the attention of the deceased son.
While the world would gasp in shock at such antics at a funeral in theory, the reality for most people is that other things are on their mind during the somber services in many cases. The show faced the reality of human nature and it helped those who viewed it feel less selfish, less self absorbed and less rude. THE NEGATIVE VIEW While there were many viewers who raced home to watch the show each week there were others who never could figure out what all the fuss was about(Mann, 1995). When the show finished second in the Nielsen ratings in its first few weeks there were many who did not understand the allure.
Readers of magazines wrote in to express their dismay at the show, which they deemed as repetitive, childish and cartoonish. These, of course, were the very elements that made the show a success, but those who did not like the show could not understand why these elements were desirable(Mann, 1995). Among the criticism that have befallen the show over the years, the words whiney, boring and rote have surfaced again and again. Critics, who pan the show, though few and far between, believe the show is an insult to the intelligence of its viewers (Mann, 1995).
The critics charged with explaining themselves in a minority of non-believers, say one only has to turn on the television to see the problem. A show that is based on four adults who have no substance in their life is insulting to the adults in America according to the negative critics. The show’s critics say that the characters of the show are always whining about the flaws of other human beings when they have even less of a life of their own. The stars themselves believed in the show. They understood the appreciation the audience held for the nothingness of the theme(Kronke, 1995).
While critics might argue it insulted the lives and intelligence of the audience the stars believe it did the opposite. Larry David, who produced the show and was reported to be the most high strung of the company, believed the show was taken to the heights it was because the American public was ready for some mindless laughter. “Larry David, the man on the show most incapable of enjoying himself in the face of success, shrugs. “There are so many shows to do, and it’s such a daunting prospect to do it, that all you can think about is the next show,” he says(Kronke, 1995).
” This revealing statement shows that while the show seems to be about nothing it is actually carefully constructed and designed to promote laughter and self realization among those who tuned in each week (Kronke, 1995). The fabulous four who star in the show have their own beliefs about its success. When the show was at its height of success the actors admit to improvising as often as not. The script will start the ball rolling according to Michael Richards, who plays Kramer, and then someone will go off script and it will be perfect.
The others begin to follow according to the actor who is well known for his eccentricities, and they eventually wind themselves back to the story line. Jason Alexander agreed that it helped promote the success of the show. It was played out in front of audiences and the audience reactions drove the direction of the shoot (Kronke, 1995). The very essence of the show according to the cast and producers is the fact that the audience does not have to think, they do not have to learn and they are not preached at (Kronke, 1995). “David once glibly told an interviewer that the show’s motto was “no hugging, no learning.
” It stuck; it’s the crew’s mantra. Too, it got to the point that no press account of the show could be written without mentioning that the show was famously about “nothing (Kronke, 1995). ” When all was said and done however, it was the show’s namesake that summed up best what had taken the show to historical numbers for nine running years. He made it okay to see one’s negative qualities in the characters and appreciate them for what they were. “There’s nothing really likable about them except that they kind of remind you of yourself. That’s their only redeeming quality.
Because on paper, they’re incredibly selfish and conniving. They will even trick each other, their closest friends, for the basest of goals, usually money or sex(Kronke, 1995). ” CONCLUSION The show started out as a slot filler during a time of slow rerun episodes. The initial critics panned the show and said it was about nothing and was boring. By the time the fourth and final slot filler episode ran however the nation and the critics had been hooked and the rest was television history. A combination of factors contributed to making it the success that it was.
The American need to laugh at itself, the urban setting, the dynamics of the four main characters, and the comedic scripts all gave it the foundation to become one of the top rated shows in history. It set the bar for future shows, and it destroyed many previous show records all while focusing on how to buy the best fruit. The show itself is no longer on the air but it is in syndication world wide without any hint of slowing down. Years ago when Seinfeld was answering the question about the success of the show he said: “We’ve really managed to have an awful lot of success for having so little in the way of conventional comedy,” Seinfeld said.
“But whatever it is we do, it’s still working. Audiences don’t laugh on reputation. It’s an involuntary response(Richmond, 1995). ” This is really the bottom line in television. If they laugh it is a hit, and beyond that there is no set formula. REFERENCES MARVIN KITMAN E-mail Marvin Kitman at: MarvinKitmanShow @worldnet. att. net, COVER STORY / Nothing . . . And Everything / By exploring with wit and style, `SEINFELD’ is assured of its place in TV history. , Newsday, 05-03-1998, pp D06. RICHARD ZOGLIN, REVIEWS TELEVISION: Comedian on The Make. , Time, 08-24-1992, pp 63.
LISA SCHWARZBAUM ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JESSICA SHAW, FEATURES: WISER GUYS ‘SEINFELD’? NEVER FUNNIER. MAYBE THAT’S WHY TV’S HIT SQUAD ISN’T SWEATING THE LOSS OF ITS SECRET WEAPON. , Entertainment Weekly, 02-02-1996, pp 18+. VIRGINIA MANN, HIT SHOWS MISSING THE MARK. , The Record (Bergen County, NJ), 02-12-1995, pp e01. DAVID KRONKE, Much Ado About Nothing CREATING A `SEINFELD’ EPISODE IS NOT EASY TASK. Sidebar: So, Jerry, We Were Just Wondering (see end of text). , Newsday, 02-05-1995, pp 08. Ray Richmond, At the 100 landmark, `Seinfeld’ still running on `nothing’.
, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 02-09-1995, pp 01E. Eric Mink, `SEINFELD’ REACHES NEW HEIGHTS OF SURREALISM. , St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 05-19-1993, pp 07F. A. J. JACOBS ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CABLE NEUHAUS, JESSICA SHAW, AND DAN SNIERSON EDITED BY MAGGIE MURPH, NEWS & NOTES: STOP SEIN AHEAD? IS IT PROGNOSIS NEGATIVE FOR JERRY, ELAINE, KRAMER, AND GEORGE?. , Entertainment Weekly, 05-26-1995, pp 6+. VIRGINIA MANN, `SEINFELD’ LIVES!. , The Record (Bergen County, NJ), 04-18-1993, pp 017. VIRGINIA MANN, Television Critic, THE CHANGING FACE OF TELEVISION. , The Record (Bergen County, NJ), 10-24-1993, pp a01.
Virginia Mann, Record Television Critic, HIS SITCOM ROLE BUILDS CHARACTER. , The Record (Bergen County, NJ), 05-06-1992, pp e16. BILL BRIOUX, TORONTO SUN, WILL THIRD TIME BE LUCKY? \AFTER DELAYS, EMMYS FINALLY SET TO AIR TOMORROW NIGHT. , The Toronto Sun, 11-03-2001, pp 45. Ed Bark, JERRY-ATRICS: KEEPING SCORE. , The Dallas Morning News, 05-10-1998, pp 6C. FREE PRESS NEWS SERVICES, ENTERTAINMENT BUZZ. , The London Free Press, 12-08-2000, pp C2. Michael Sauter, Good For Nothing Jerry Seinfeld’s shaky first go at sitcom success, The Seinfeld Chronicles, debuted on NBC 13 years ago.. , Entertainment Weekly, 07-12-2002, pp 88.