|Posted by friendsofthenewarkfreelibrary on February 5, 2018 at 1:00 PM|
SEINFELDIA -How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything
By Jennifer Keishin Armstrong (Simon & Schuster; 307 pp.)
Reviewed by Roy H. Lopata
“Yada, Yada, Yada;” “No soup for you;” and “Not that there is anything wrong with that.” Yes, these are lines from perhaps one of the most remarkable television situation comedies of all time – Seinfeld. But you knew that already, didn’t you? And that to a significant extent is the theme that Jennifer Keishin Armstrong wants to impart to us: Seinfeld, a show created by two New York Jews with a very East Coast sensibility that left the prime time airwaves nineteen years ago, has so permeated the nation’s culture that everyone, even those nearing adulthood and born after the show moved from network to syndicated television, smiles knowingly when they hear or read the now ubiquitous catch phrases made famous by Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer. And, according to Armstrong, these names have become iconic as well, so much so that the actors who played these characters are still remembered by these TV labels rather than their own. The star and co-creator, Jerry Seinfeld, apparently had the amazing foresight to use his real name as a character in the show to avoid any confusion in the future!
Armstrong couples her detailed exploration of Seinfeld’s impact on American culture with an interesting history of the show’s beginnings as a Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld thirty minute script written in February, 1989; through its early struggles to find an audience; to its triumph as the nation’s number one hit that by 1996 contributed $200 million dollars to the billion-dollar profit made by General Electric – NBC’s parent company. Seinfeld had become the first regularly scheduled television show to earn $1 million per minute of advertising, something previously reserved for NFL Super Bowl telecasts. Jerry’s relatively inoffensive and observational comedy style, coupled with Larry David’s darker and much more caustic approach (the style that he later brought to his HBO hit – Curb Your Enthusiasm) produced the kind of magic that, according to Armstrong, has seldom had such a significant impact on the shows that followed and the culture within which they were broadcast.
Armstrong also provides considerable material about the numerous Seinfeld writers, who Jerry and Larry deliberately reshuffled every few years, that were encouraged to utilize the most insignificantly seeming details from their day to day lives to provide the framework for episodes. One of the obvious in retrospect attributes that made Seinfeld so successful was that even though the characters were not really likeable, their foibles (waiting for a seat at a restaurant; annoying telemarketing calls; running out of toilet paper; and finding a reserved rental car not “reserved”) were all clearly recognizable to everyone watching. Along the way, Armstrong also explores the onerous and extremely detailed rewrite process that produced, of course, a show that gave the indelible impression that the actors “were” the people they played and were not really acting at all.
So Seinfeld rolls on. According to Armstrong it is now by far the most successful syndicated television show in history. Hundreds of websites (none, of course, in existence when the show originally ran) and the on-gong Seinfeld based special events – Minor League Baseball games with Seinfeld promotions; the real “Kramer” offering New York City Seinfeld location guided tours, and the “Soup Nazi” making personal appearances across the country -- underscore the lasting impact of Jerry and Larry’s creation. And most interesting of all, the show has left so many quotable phrases for us that some seem particularly suited for 2017, like this one:
“Jerry, just remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it.” – George Costanza.