Quarter-century of nothing: 25 years later, fans say 'Seinfeld' is still master of the sitcom domain

Quarter-century of nothing: 25 years later, fans say 'Seinfeld' is still master of the sitcom domain

July 3rd, 2014 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

The Emmy-winning comedy series "Seinfeld," starring Michael Richards, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Jerry Seinfeld, from left, achieved critical acclaim for being what was often called a show about "nothing."

Photo by Photo: NBC

A frustrated Jerry explains to Elaine why he's wearing old cowboy boots after Kramer takes all his sneakers to a mom and pop shoe repair store facing tough financial times.

Photo by Photo: NBC

BEST SCENES

Last week, readers posted their favorite "Seinfeld" memories to the Times Free Press Facebook page. Here are some of their favorite moments from the sitcom:

* "Soup Nazi!! No soup for you!! One. Year!!" - Oliver McCord

* "Man hands!" - Travis Stewart

* "Festivus. We still celebrate every year." - Debbie Burwick

* "When Saddam Hussein double-parked George and Kramer" - Eric Reidy

* "Yada, yada, yada." - Ruth Morgan Garren

* "Bubble boy." - Jennifer Drye

* "Puffy shirt." - Tina McKissack

CASTING CATCH UP

Jerry Seinfeld (Jerry Seinfeld/series co-creator/writer/producer)

* Seinfeld, 60, is still doing stand-up and performed Thursday in Chattanooga at the Tivoli Theatre. He also continues to write and host his original web series "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" and was considered a front runner to replace David Letterman as the host of "The Late Show" before Stephen Colbert was selected.

Jason Alexander (George Costanza)

* Alexander, 54, continues to act, making one-off appearances in series such as "Two and a Half Men," "Community" and "Kristie." A Tony Award winner in 1989 (Best Leading Actor in a Musical for "Jerome Robbins' Broadway"), he returned to musicals in 2003 and has performed or directed productions of "The Producers," "A Christmas Carol" and "Damn Yankees."

Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine Benes)

* Louis-Dreyfus, 53, in her fourth season as Vice President Selina Meyer in the HBO political comedy series "Veep," which she also produces. Her performance in that role has won her two prime-time Emmys, a Screen Actors Guild Award and two Golden Globe nominations. She also won a Supporting Actress in Comedy Emmy for "Seinfeld" and a Best Actress in Comedy Emmy for "The New Adventures of Old Christine." She is the only woman to win an Emmy three times for three separate series.

Michael Richards (Cosmo Kramer)

* After Michael Richards, 64, created, wrote for, produced and starred in the single season of "The Michael Richards Show," his career took a nosedive in 2006 when he was caught on video in a racist rant during one of his stand-up shows. He now has a recurring role on the TV Land series "Kristie." He also made multiple appearances alongside his "Seinfeld" castmates in Larry David's quasi-autobiographical series "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

Larry David (series co-creator / writer / executive producer)

* After writing for and starring as "himself" in the eight-season run of the Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award-winning comedy series "Curb Your Enthusiasm," David wrote and starred in the 2013 HBO film "Clear History." He turns 67 on Wednesday.

TRIVIA

• The exterior of Monk's Cafe, one of the series most popular settings, is actually the redecorated facade of Tom's Restaurant in Manhattan's Upper West Side. In the show, the cafe is famous for its big salad and for not serving an egg-white omelette. In reality, Tom's does serve an egg-white omelette as well as a big salad, although it's listed as a "large green salad" on the menu.

• In Vietnam, the show's title was "Seinfeld Và Nhung Ngu?i B?n," which roughly translates as "Seinfeld and Friends."

• In addition to portraying George Costanza, Jason Alexander - born Jason Scott Greenspan - directed one episode of "Seinfeld" - "The Good Samaritan" (1992).

• The pilot episode, "Good News, Bad News," was filmed at Stage 8 of Desilu Cahuenga Studios, the same location used to film "The Dick Van Dyke Show."

• Many of the show's characters are based on acquaintances of Jerry Seinfeld and co-creator Larry David. Cosmo Kramer is based on Kenny Kramer, who lived across the hall from David in a New York City housing complex. George Costanza was inspired by Mike Costanza, a self-proclaimed "old college buddy" of Seinfeld's, but actually based on David himself.

• The series begins and ends with Jerry and George discussing a button.

• During the entire run of the series, Jason Alexander is seen in every episode but one, "The Pen." He is named in the credits but never appears on screen.

• Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus' character) dated 50 men throughout the series, changing partners, on average, once every 3.6 episodes.

• The funky bass riff that comprises "Seinfeld's" theme was written by Jonathan Wolff, who also composed the music for "Married ... With Children" and "Unhappily Ever After."

From Festivus and bubble boys to man hands and Soup Nazis, "Seinfeld" was a veritable catchphrase-generating machine during its dominance of prime time in the 1990s. But when it debuted 25 years ago on July 5, NBC's "show about nothing" was far from must-see TV.

In fact, the sitcom that TV Guide in 2002 dubbed the "greatest television program of all time" spent its first two seasons struggling to find an audience.

"For a few years there, NBC would throw it out there and see if anything would stick," recalls David Carroll, a news anchor at local NBC affiliate WRCB Channel 3, who interviewed Jerry Seinfeld at the beginning of the show's second season. "Nobody knew at the time whether it was going to be 13 episodes and out or whether it would become a phenomenon. It wasn't an overnight sensation, by any stretch."

A SHOW ABOUT WHAT?

When it first aired on July 5, 1989, "Seinfeld" had a rocky start, which was hardly surprising given test audiences' negative response to the pilot episode of the show, then titled "The Seinfeld Chronicles."

"In the history of pilot reports, 'Seinfeld' has got to be one of the worst of all time. I have it next to my desk; it says overall evaluation 'weak,'" recalled former NBC President of Entertainment Warren Littlefield in a 2012 interview with Fox News Entertainment.

Initially, audiences didn't know how to react to a show centered on four leading characters - played by Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Julie Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards - navigating mundane scenarios such as deciding what to bring to a dinner party, riding the subway and trying to find a parking space.

"The audience did not like the show, and that scared us," Littlefield said in 2012. "But we did manage to find money to film four episodes to hold the show intact by making one less two-hour Bob Hope special, and it did OK."

Based on that feedback - and after "[taking] a deep breath," Littlefield says - NBC ordered 13 more episodes. To some, however, the show's concept was still a hard sell.

As the host of mid-day talk show "Live at Noon," Carroll conducted a satellite interview in 1991 with Seinfeld to preview its second season. As the discussion drifted to upcoming plotlines, the comic revealed one episode would be about waiting to be seated for dinner.

"How do you make 30 minutes out of that?" Carroll asks.

"That's the beauty; there's the magic, David," Seinfeld responds, laughing. "You can get stuck waiting in a restaurant for a table for that long, and that's what happens in the show."

The story of that episode, which featured the suitably vanilla title "The Chinese Restaurant," is told in real-time and is considered by some to be one of the show's early classics.

"Now that [episode] was totally about nothing, but I could relate," reads a post to the Times Free Press Facebook page by René Doggett Berrien, a former Chattanoogan now living in New Jersey.

Like Berrien, many fans say "Seinfeld" won them over with its uncanny knack for finding humor in otherwise bland, everyday situations.

"It's just instantly funny," says Cleveland, Tenn., resident Abby Bianucci, who began watching syndicated episodes of "Seinfeld" with her father when she was a teenager.

"I feel like you can apply the show to any situation," she says. "Something will happen in your everyday life, and you're like, 'That reminds me of that 'Seinfeld' episode.' It really applies to everything."

TV'S (REALLY) BIG SALAD

The series lasted nine years, eventually graduating from a successful TV show to a bona fide pop culture phenomenon. From 1993 to 1998, "Seinfeld" never ranked below No. 3 on Nielsen's TV ratings. The show remained at the No. 1 spot during its entire final season, a feat only matched by "I Love Lucy" and "The Andy Griffith Show."

During its last year on air, "Seinfeld" broadcasts were seen by an average of 38 million viewers. By comparison, Nielsen reports show that "The Big Bang Theory," the top-rated sitcom of 2013, attracted 13.2 million viewers.

Despite reports that he was offered $5 million an episode to reprise the show for a 10th season, Seinfeld decided to call it quits in 1998. News that "Seinfeld's" ninth season would be its last made waves across the country, landing a head shot of its namesake on the cover of Time magazine's first issue of 1998.

When the last episode, "The Finale," aired on May 14, 1998, Nielsen reported it was seen by 76 million people, making it the third most-watched series finale in the U.S. after "Cheers" (84.4 million) and "M*ASH" (105.9 million).

Ultimately, "Seinfeld" accrued a treasure trove of accolades, including three Golden Globes, 10 Emmys, six Screen Actors Guild Awards and a Peabody Award.

In 2013, 11 years after naming it the best show of all time, TV Guide released a revised list, bumping "Seinfeld" down a single peg to the No. 2 spot behind HBO mafia drama "The Sopranos." A similar list released by Entertainment Weekly the same year put it in third place, calling it "the most endlessly rewatchable sitcom since 'The Honeymooners.'"

In addition to leaving fans with positive memories and a bevy of catchphrases and inside jokes, the decision to end "Seinfeld" on a high note 16 years ago proved to be financially lucrative. "Seinfeld's" syndicated run, which is currently in its fifth round, has yielded $3.1 billion in repeat fees, according to an April 2013 report by U.K.-based newspaper The Independent.

And with storylines that trade on day-to-day mundanity, there's no reason fans won't still be chuckling at "nothing" for years to come, Carroll says.

"That's why I think it will be around forever; it's about things we all do," he says. "The jokes and characterizations are funny now and will still be funny 25 years from now or longer."

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.