A look at the work of two stand-up comics, Jerry Seinfeld and a lesser-known newcomer, detailing the effort and frustration behind putting together a successful act and career while living a life on the road.
A 1-hour ad for the DVD, with some of the biggest lessons of "Seinfeld's" success going ignored
Network: NBC; Genre: Documentary, Special; Content Rating: TV-14 (for language and adult content); Classification: Contemporary (star range: 1 - 4);
Season Reviewed: Special
The modern network sitcom can literally be divided up into two halves: pre-"Seinfeld" and post-"Seinfeld". Before "Seinfeld" so many sitcoms where family oriented, with overly dramatic music playing during the intro as we see photos of the kids growing up. When creating "Seinfeld", Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld became two guys who came in not knowing the rules and ended up changing the game. With its use of anti-heroes, anti-endings, dialog driven comedy and stories about the tiniest little minutia in day-to-day life, "Seinfeld" broke the mold and re-set the standard. It was the anti-sitcom and became the subject of many rip-offs and misinterpretations. It is my no-brainer pick for the best series of the 90s. As "The Seinfeld Story" tells us, all of this almost never happened.
The show went through evolutions as a series, from a show about everyday annoyances to a comedy of errors starring a group of neurotic anti-heroes to a sharp social satire and pop culture parody and finally, in its final season, a parody of itself. Now, 7 years after the series that defined a decade came to its anti-climactic, but cleverly cyclical jail house ending, "Seinfeld" is back on DVD.
"The Seinfeld Story" is an NBC network special (originally airing on Thanksgiving night, with subsequent airings) marking the show's first, second and third season DVD release and an attempt to re-spark some interest in a show that once capture the nation's attention and made NBC "must-see TV" - a title it has yet to regain in the years this show has left the air. It is only natural for NBC to want to get the magic of this juggernaut back - if only for one hour.
But "The Seinfeld Story" is something of a rip-off. As Seinfeld himself coyly intimates in the special, there is no interest in revising the series, particularly one that is peacefully resting in the hall of TV classics. So, instead, "The Seinfeld Story" is a 1-hour collection of interviews all of which you can find on the DVD. In them, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Jason Alexander, Michael Richards and Julia Louis-Dryfuss sit in their own separate settings and muse about the humble origins of the show. It spans the first 2 seasons and specifically mentions "The Chinese Restaurant", "The Parking Garage" and the spectacular ending of season 4's "The Marine Biologist" as turning points in the show's evolution.
It is undeniably interesting listening to them all talk about the show now, after years of rumors that Alexander, Richards and Louis-Dryfuss had a falling out with the DVD campaign over their syndication deals. As the only project member to parlay the show into his own success, the neurotic roller-coaster "Curb Your Enthusiasm", Larry David completely steals the special. It is a familiar, very "Curb"-like joy listening to him recount how depressed and freaked out he was over the show's escalating success. "Now I have to make 22 more of these", he says recalling his physical illness at the thought.
There are a lot of clips shown here we have seen before, particularly in a masterfully constructed pre-series finale clipshow back in 1997. Otherwise, there is nothing in this special you can't get from buying the DVDs. And while the DVD is no "Freaks and Geeks - The Complete Series" it is a must for any "Seinfeld" fan.
Not surprisingly, what gets glossed over in "The Seinfeld Story" is the moral of it all: we may never have another "Seinfeld" success story the way networks do business today. A show that starts modestly and builds word of mouth until it becomes a massive hit? It is unheard of now. Count them, only two TV series, CBS's "Everybody Loves Raymond" and Fox's "24" since the end of "Seinfeld" have started out with cancellation deserving ratings and where given enough support by the network to blossom into hits.
The hero behind "Seinfeld" is the late Brandon Tartikoff who believed in the show when everyone else was saying "But where is the story?". Today, there isn't a single broadcast network or executive willing to stand up for a show and support it in that way. Today, they are cowards governed by manufactured views of the public, sound-byte attention spans, pre-teen demographic data and a corporate overhead that says "get a hit and get one fast" despite the real historical evidence that says TV just doesn't work like that. Network executives today are business men trading in entertainment, without any clue as to how this particular medium works and the public caught in the middle. The story here is that a show's success is tied more directly to a network's desire to see it succeed or fail then about ratings. Ratings are merely currency by which the network can explain its actions and redirect blame to the public that doesn't watch.
Without getting any preachier, let's say I will be surprised if we see another "Seinfeld" in my lifetime, not in terms of quality but in terms of financial success. "Seinfeld" is a classic series, but "The Seinfeld Story" is an ad for a deserving DVD with an amusing history and a relevance today that is whitewashed in the network's desire to get a nostalgic ratings grab from a hit show, while at the same time trying not to admit that the institutional mentality that worked to make it a hit no longer exists.
Although it is nice to have an excuse to talk about "Seinfeld" after all these years.
* * / 4
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