In retrospect, greenlighting the Seinfeld pilot has probably been one of the best decisions to ever come out of NBC. Since the show ended its nine-year run in 1998, repeat airings of the sitcom have generated a whopping $3.1 billion. Seinfeld is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, and it continues to be a milestone in pop culture.
Before Seinfeld, the majority of sitcoms were fairly simplistic in terms of plot and character development. Seinfeld changed the game with its cast of four distinct protagonists, who each had their own unique story to tell. Sometimes plots would overlap and occasionally one of the characters would disappear entirely from several episodes at a time (due to either story constraints or real-life issues), but there was never a sense of imbalance. At the time, attempting to juggle so many plots coherently was a revolutionary concept for network television. Even today, it remains difficult to find a show which does not have an established formula designed to keep things as simple as possible for the audience.
Set in New York City, Seinfeld chronicled the misadventures of the eponymous Jerry, his ex-girlfriend Elaine, his neighbor Kramer, and his friend George. Part of the appeal of the show was its frequent use of metareference, a technique employed where characters in a creative work display awareness of playing a role within that work. Season four of the sitcom primarily featured the antics of Jerry and George attempting to pitch an idea for a new television show that closely resembled Seinfeld to NBC. The show also made frequent usage of real people and brand names. In the show the character Elaine was employed by the J. Peterman Catalog while George worked for the New York Yankees, respectively. The cereal boxes frequently seen in Jerry’s kitchen are actual brands.
Seinfeld long purported itself to be a show about “nothing,” but a close examination reveals hidden layers. According to series co-creator Larry David, the show was designed to observe the minutiae not typically depicted in a sitcom. In some instances, entire episodes were centered on the four main characters waiting to be seated at a Chinese restaurant or getting lost in a parking deck. While seemingly insignificant, the plots actually serve as an avenue to the real subject matter. At its core, Seinfeld is about four narcissistic individuals who each fulfilled a role typically seen in modern society. The show is a satire of the inner workings of daily life. That is Seinfeld’s true genius, and why it is still being celebrated as a milestone.
The sitcom has spawned a veritable plethora of catch phrases and oft-repeated references. Popular phrases such as “No soup for you!” and “master of your domain” continue to seamlessly integrate themselves into conversations today.
Industry estimates cite co-creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David have earned $400 million after negotiations for a fifth round of syndication deals pushed total earnings for the show past $3 billion. The pair continues to benefit from profit-sharing deals with Warner Brothers, which currently owns the show. Seinfeld was initially rejected by Fox and took time to establish an audience, but it is now celebrated as a milestone in television.
Opinion by Sam Williams