Welcome to an upfront seat at one of TV’s most popular sitcoms.
How does a TV studio replace the loss on Thursdays of Cheers, one of the greatest sitcoms of all time? With one that may be even better. Former Entertainment Weekly staffer Armstrong (Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And all the Brilliant Minds Who Made the Mary Tyler Show a Classic, 2013, etc.) believes that Seinfeld was special. Its “trademark bouillabaisse of cultural references and inside jokes” created “portals between its fictional world and reality,” its actors had rich characters to inhabit, and its talented writers, including star Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, wrote smart scripts. Armstrong unfolds the show’s history chapter by chapter. Here are Jerry and David, two hardworking stand-up comedians, talking in a late-night diner, coming up with an idea for a TV show based, essentially, on them, a metashow in which little happens. At first it was The Seinfeld Chronicles. Jerry wanted it changed, and NBC president Brandon Tartikoff agreed. Armstrong then covers the “players,” how four characters were created by four talented actors, followed by the “network,” the “production,” the “writers,” and the “bizarros” (the show’s many odd ducks, including the Soup Nazi and J. Peterman). It all came together to create a masterpiece. The show’s tickets were always free, and tapings could last three hours. Even the show’s relatively minor characters became national sensations. America Online’s numbers plunged when Seinfeld was on. Just before the eighth season, David decided it was time to go. Jerry was worn out too. NBC offered him $5 million per show; he was already making $1 million. He passed, and the ninth season would be Seinfeld’s last. Armstrong’s intimate, breezy history is full of gossipy details, show trivia, and insights into how famous episodes came to be.
How nothing could become something or how a national TV audience learned to live in a Beckett-ian world. Perfect for Seinfeldians and newcomers alike.