They called it “a show about nothing,” but you’d be hard-pressed to stretch “nothing” into nine seasons of hit comedy. Really, Seinfeld was about everything: sex, parents, the buttons on your shirt, baked goods, cold cereal, “man hands,” yada yada yada… It was the little things in life that mattered on Seinfeld—you’d never see “a very special episode” about drugs or childbirth, and nobody ever, ever gave hugs.
Seinfeld didn’t really even have a family, not even a workplace surrogate one. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld (playing a riff on himself) was the title star, and the other leads were just a childhood friend, a neighbor, and an ex-lover. George Costanza—the childhood friend—was a perpetual loser, and not really the loveable kind. When the show started, he was a realtor, but a succession of jobs followed, each hampered by George’s desires to get paid as much as possible for doing as little as possible. Cosmo Kramer—the neighbor—lived the kind of life George dreamed about, never working but always having plenty of money and plenty of inexplicable relationships with beautiful women. Elaine Benes—the ex-lover—was now just a good friend, but she was every bit as shallow and petty and the rest of the bunch (probably more so).
Other characters made their marks—mailman Newman (Jerry’s arch-nemesis), Jerry’s parents, George’s parents, Uncle Leo, catalog magnate J. Peterman, thickwit boyfriend Puddy, lawyer Jackie Chiles and others—but the starring foursome was always front and center. Into the social world of New York City ventured these four chums, experiencing the pitfalls of blind dates, rental cars, bad parties, parking spaces, impotence, and anything else that the writers found funny. And in a case of art imitating life imitating art imitating life, the on-screen Seinfeld worked many of the episode’s social quirks into his stand-up comedy routine (a fave comic bit of the off-screen Jerry Seinfeld).
Jerry Seinfeld co-created the series with friend Larry David (a proto-Costanza), a fact the show spoofed when Jerry and George tried to pitch NBC on a sitcom of their own, titled Jerry. That story carried through several episodes, but most of the show’s classic moments fell into a single half-hour time block: the puffy shirt, the Soup Nazi, Bizarro Jerry, Kramer’s life-turned-Merv Griffin Show, the full episode spent looking for a car in a parking garage, and of course, the legendary “The Contest” episode, in which the foursome wagered as to who could go the longest without pleasuring him or herself.
“The Contest” was actually a major turning point for Seinfeld, helping boost the show from cult favorite to required water cooler topic. The series had been only a marginal success at first, but a handful of much-ballyhooed episodes and a move to Thursday nights—following Cheers and later replacing it—sent Seinfeld into the stratosphere. By the 1994-95 season, it was the top-ranked show on television, the one everyone would be talking about come Friday morning.
Seinfeld remained a ratings powerhouse throughout the 90’s, coming to an end only when the cast decided to call it quits after the 1997-98 season. A two-hour special brought things to a close in the summer of ’98, culminating in a two-part episode that found Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer finally getting some legal comeuppance for nine seasons of self-absorption. Fans have kept the show alive with tribute and clubs, and the show is still everywhere in syndication, but the world may never again see so much ado about “nothing.”
The series won many honors, including Emmys, the prestigious Peabody Award (Best Television Entertainment), a Golden Globe Award (Best TV Series – Comedy/Musical) and a Screen Actors Guild Award (Outstanding Ensemble Performance in a Comedy Series).
On 5 July 1989 there was a half-hour pilot called The Seinfeld Chronicles.
USA / NBC – West – Shapiro Prod – Castle Rock / 162×25 minute episodes 7x50minute episodes / Broadcast 31 May 1990 – 10 September 1998
Creators: Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld / Producers: Jerry Seinfeld, Andy Ackerman, Tim Kaiser, Suzy Mamann Greenberg / Executive Producers: Jerry Seinfeld, George Shapiro and Howard West / Co-Executive Producer: Peter Mehlman
JERRY SEINFELD as Jerry Seinfeld
JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS as Elaine Benes
JASON ALEXANDER as George Costanza
MICHAEL RICHARDS as Cosmo Kramer
WAYNE KNIGHTS as Newman
LIZ SHERIDAN as Helen Seinfeld
JERRY STILLER as Frank Costanza
ESTELLE HARRIS as Estelle Costanza
LEN LESSER as Uncle Leo
JOHN O’HURLEY as J. Peterman
PHIL BRUNS as Morty Seinfeld (1990)
BARNEY MARTIN as Morty (from 1991)