Seinfeld


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

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About

Jerry Seinfeld, American standup comedian and author of the best-selling book SeinLanguage (1993), is now best known as the eponymous hero of Seinfeld, a sitcom that has been a great success for NBC for the last five years. Yet hero, for the show's fans in the US and around the world, is not the right word for Jerry in Seinfeld. Nor would it describe the show's other main characters, Elaine, George, and (Cosmo) Kramer, all thirtysomething and leading the single life in New York. The program's distinctiveness lies in being a comedy made out of trivia and minutiae, a bricolage of casual incidents and situations of everyday metropolitan life, all of which belie any conventional notion of "heroism," any notion, indeed, of distinction. We see Jerry in his apartment, with bizarre neighbour Kramer constantly dropping in, and Elaine and George visiting, or in the café where they are all regular customers, or at Elaine's office where she worked as a publisher, until she lost her job. (She has since worked in a series of situations, usually as personal assistant to eccentric, bizarre, individuals.) Seinfeld himself, in an interview, suggested that Seinfeld was adding something new to television comedy, some new representation of the quotidian that might be influencing other TV and film culture. He cited some of the coffee shop conversation between the John Travolta and Samuel Jackson characters in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, and Tarantino in turn has admitted to being a big fan of Seinfeld.

Seinfeld does not mix seemingly trivial conversation and incidents with sudden unnerving violence as does Pulp Fiction, whose main characters, gangsters, create a world of shattering absurdity. Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer instead lead a life of quiet absurdity. They appear always to be relentlessly superficial. Even to say they are friends would be too kind. If they do help each other, it is out of self-interest only. They create a comic world out of the banally cruel and amoral, of trivial lies, treachery, and betrayal. In their relations with each other, with anyone else they encounter, or with their families, they rarely find it in themselves to act out of altruism, kindness, generosity, support, courage, caring, sharing, concern, neighbourliness, sense of human community, trust. Like comedy through the ages, they say the unsayable, do the undoable, as they casually ignore sanctioned morality and recognised correctness. Watching someone being operated on, they pass callous remarks, and accidentally pop a chocolate ball into the body.

George in particular, is freely given to making trouble and then denying all responsibility; to boasting, deceiving, lying. We wait for him to do disgusting things, expecting, hoping, he'll do them. And George rarely fails. He tries to get money out of a hospital when someone falls to his death from the hospital's window onto his car. He makes love on his parents' bed and leaves behind a used condom. He sells his father's beloved old clothes to a shop, saying his father had died and this was his dearest wish. He hopes an artist will die so his paintings will go up in value.

Jerry and a girlfriend, who can't make love in his apartment because his parents are visiting, entwine themselves in the flickering darkness when they go to see Schindler's List and consequently miss most of the film. Their behavior is reported to Jerry's Jewish parents by another acquaintance, the treacherous Newman. Much of Seinfeld involves similar comic humiliation, and so recalls and reprises a long Jewish tradition of humour that has flourished this century in vaudeville, radio, then film and television: in the figure of the schlemiel (think of Woody Allen), making comedy out of failure, ineptitude, defeat, minor disaster.

In Seinfeld disasters multiply for each character, except for the mysterious Kramer, a trickster figure, who like trickster figures through the ages always gets out of daily work, is a renowned sexual reptile, generally out-tricks every adversary, and ignores the havoc he insists on causing. In Seinfeld Kramer functions as pure sign of folly, misrule, turning the world upside-down at every chance.

Elaine is Jerry's former girlfriend. With George she has a relationship of uneasiness, if not sharp mutual dislike. Elaine is sassy and spunky, but her spunkiness usually emerges as irritability and impatience (especially in restaurants or waiting to see a film). She picks arguments with almost everyone she encounters, including any boyfriend. In mattes of romance, Elaine constantly self-destructs. So, too, do Jerry and George, usually quickly allowing a trivial difference or unfounded suspicion to end a relationship. Once Jerry insisted that he and Elaine make love again, but he can't get it up, and here Elaine emerges as similar to the irrepressible female carnival figures of early modern Europe (as discussed by Natalie Zemon Davis in her famous essay "Women on Top"), overturning men's power and self-image.

Seinfeld also recalls a long comic tradition of farce that descends from Elizabethan drama. In the plays and the jigs following, the audience was presented with a contestation of ideals and perspectives. Whatever moral order is realized in the play is placed in tension with its parody in the closing jig. There the clown dominated as festive Lord of Misrule, creating, for audiences to ponder, not a definite conclusion but an anarchy of values, a play of play and counterplay. Similarly, Seinfeld continuously presents an absurd mirror image of other television programs that, like Shakespeare's romances, hold out hope for relationships despite every obstacle that tries to rend lovers, friends, kin, neighbours apart, obstacles that create amidst the comedy sadness, pathos, and intensity.

The possible disadvantage of a genre like absurdist farce is repetition and sameness, comic action turning into ritualised motion. Seinfeld himself comments that in Seinfeld, "You can't change the basic situation or the basic characters." Nevertheless, he rejected the suggestion that even the show's devotees think the characters are becoming increasingly obnoxious and the jokes forced (TV Week, 4 March 1995). While some contemporary satirical comedy such as Married... with Children may have fatally succumbed to this danger, Seinfeld remains one of the most innovative and inventive comedies in the history of American television.

-John Docker

CAST

Jerry Seinfeld .........................................Himself
Elaine Benes ...........................Julia Louis-Dreyfus
George Costanza ........................Jason Alexander
Kramer ....................................Michael Richards

PRODUCERS

Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

NBC

May 1990-July 1990   Thursday 9:30-10:00

January 1991-February 1991   Wednesday 9:30-10:00

April 1991-June 1991   Thursday 9:30-10:00

June 1991-December 1991   Wednesday 9:30-10:00

December 1991-January 1993   Wednesday 9:00-9:30

February 1993-August 1993   Thursday 9:30-10:00

August 1993-May 1998   Thursday 9:00-9:30

FURTHER READING

Davis, Natalie Zemon. Society and Culture in Early Modern France. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1975.

Docker, John. Postmodernism and Popular Culture: A Cultural History. Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Johnson, Carla. "Luckless in New York: The Schlemiel and the Schlimazel in Seinfeld." Journal of Popular Film and Television (Washington, D.C.), Fall 1994.

Radway, Janice A. Reading the Romance. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984.

Rapping, Elayne. "The Seinfeld Syndrome." The Progressive (Madison, Wisconsin), September 1995.

"Sein of the Times (interview)?" TV Week (Australia), 4 March 1995.

Wiles, David. Shakespeare's Clown: Actor and Text in the Elizabethan Playhouse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Highlights
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on her character "Elaine Benes" on Seinfeld
02:41
Jason Alexander on his Seinfeld character, "George Costanza"
03:20
James Hong on his approach to the role of the maitre d' on the classic Seinfeld episode "The Chinese Restaurant"
04:21
Editor Janet Ashikaga on her favorite episode of Seinfeld, "The Chinese Restaurant"
00:33
Jerry Stiller on his Seinfeld character "Frank Costanza" and his on-screen wife, played by Estelle Harris
04:42
Warren Littlefield on the development of Seinfeld 
06:48
Who talked about this show

Andy Ackerman

View Interview
Andy Ackerman on the Seinfeld episodes "The Pothole" and "The Rye" and his directorial choices on the series
05:02
Andy Ackerman on ad-libbing on Seinfeld; "happy accidents"
01:43
Andy Ackerman on directing Seinfeld
25:55
Andy Ackerman on directing his first episode of Seinfeld, "The Chaperone"
03:25
Andy Ackerman on directing an episode of Seinfeld, "The Pothole"
02:39
Andy Ackerman on directing an episode of Seinfel d, "The Rye"
00:56
Andy Ackerman on directing a dark episode of Seinfeld, "The Invitations"
02:36
Andy Ackerman on directing Seinfeld ; the transition after Larry David left the show
03:47
Andy Ackerman on his favorite Jerry Seinfeld/Larry David penned episodes of Seinfeld
00:33
Andy Ackerman on the Seinfeld finale
08:30
Andy Ackerman on some of his favorite television moments
00:52

Edie Adams

View Interview
Edie Adams on being a fan of Seinfeld and Frasier
00:38

Jason Alexander

View Interview
Jason Alexander on his Seinfeld character, "George Costanza"
03:20
Jason Alexander on his Seinfeld character, "George Costanza," being based on Larry David
09:14
Jason Alexander on the reaction to the finale of Seinfeld
01:10
Jason Alexander on the "Seinfeld curse"
03:09
Jason Alexander on being cast in The Seinfeld Chronicles, the pilot to Seinfeld
04:57
Jason Alexander on the post-pilot Seinfeld and Julia Louis-Dreyfus joining the cast
03:26
Jason Alexander on the evolution of his Seinfeld character, "George Costanza"
01:36
Jason Alexander on "George Costanza's" name and how he is similar to the character
04:01
Jason Alexander on the audience of Seinfeld
02:57
Jason Alexander on the catchphrases of his Seinfeld character, "George Costanza"
02:14
Jason Alexander on a typical Seinfeld production week
09:35
Jason Alexander on the studio audience of Seinfeld
02:36
Jason Alexander on Standards & Practices and Seinfeld, and confronting Larry David with a problem
05:39
Jason Alexander on his relationship with Seinfeld's Larry David
03:22
Jason Alexander on working with Jerry Seinfeld on Seinfeld
03:07
Jason Alexander on working with Julia Louis-Dreyfus as "Elaine Benes" on Seinfeld
01:51
Jason Alexander on working with Michael Richards as "Kramer" on Seinfeld
04:48
Jason Alexander on real life Jerry Seinfeld vs. television "Jerry Seinfeld"
00:51
Jason Alexander on Estelle Harris and Jerry Stiller as his parents on Seinfeld
04:02
Jason Alexander on Heidi Swedberg as "Susan Ross" on Seinfeld
04:39
Jason Alexander on doing publicity for Seinfeld and being nominated for Emmy Awards
04:35
Jason Alexander on his favorite Seinfeld episode and lines
02:46
Jason Alexander on the end of Seinfeld
03:51
Jason Alexander on shooting the finale of Seinfeld
04:03
Jason Alexander on the iconic status of Seinfeld
01:13
Jason Alexander on the legacy of Seinfeld
05:36
Jason Alexander on how he is different from Seinfeld's"George Costanza"
05:18

Janet Ashikaga

View Interview
Editor Janet Ashikaga on getting hired on Seinfeld
20:20
Editor Janet Ashikaga on her favorite episode of Seinfeld, "The Chinese Restaurant"
00:33
Editor Janet Ashikaga on working with Seinfeld director Tom Cherones on "The Parking Garage"
01:57
Editor Janet Ashikaga on "The Subway" episode of Seinfeld
00:36
Editor Janet Ashikaga on how she inspired "The Big Salad" episode of Seinfeld
01:23
Editor Janet Ashikaga on editing Seinfeld
52:37
Editor Janet Ashikaga on editing "The Parking Garage" episode of Seinfeld
00:54
Editor Janet Ashikaga on editing "The Subway" episode of Seinfeld
04:28
Editor Janet Ashikaga on editing "The Bubble Boy" episode of Seinfeld
00:52
Editor Janet Ashikaga on editing "The Contest" episode of Seinfeld
02:59
Editor Janet Ashikaga on editing "The Pick" episode of Seinfeld
05:18
Editor Janet Ashikaga on editing "The Junior Mint" episode of Seinfeld
04:24
Editor Janet Ashikaga on editing "The Pilot" episode of Seinfeld
01:57
Editor Janet Ashikaga on editing "The Cheever Letters" episode of Seinfeld
00:51
Editor Janet Ashikaga on editing "The Opposite" episode of Seinfeld
00:29
Editor Janet Ashikaga on editing "The Hamptons" episode of Seinfeld
03:06
Editor Janet Ashikaga on editing "The Big Salad" episode of Seinfeld
00:46
Editor Janet Ashikaga on editing "The Race" episode of Seinfeld
01:07
Editor Janet Ashikaga on editing "The Soup Nazi" episode of Seinfeld
02:52
Editor Janet Ashikaga on editing "The Secret Code" episode of Seinfeld
01:29
Editor Janet Ashikaga on editing "The Rye" episode of Seinfeld
01:23

Thomas Azzari

View Interview
Thomas Azzari on how he came to set design for Seinfeld
01:32
Thomas Azzari on set designing "Jerry"'s apartment on Seinfeld
01:12
Thomas Azzari on the job of set designing for Seinfeld
02:19
Thomas Azzari on the cast of Seinfeld
01:50
Thomas Azzari on the art department and the volume of sets at Seinfeld
03:26
Thomas Azzari on the timetable for building sets for Seinfeld
02:03
Thomas Azzari on designing the set for the Seinfeld episode "The Parking Garage"
01:40
Thomas Azzari on designing Seinfeld's New York street and various other sets
04:17
Thomas Azzari on designing the set for the Seinfeld episode "The Parking Garage" (continued)
00:56
Thomas Azzari on working with Larry David on Seinfeld
02:14
Thomas Azzari on set designing for Seinfeld after Larry David's departure
00:56
Thomas Azzari on set designing for the Seinfeld episode "The Finale"
01:52
Thomas Azzari on set designing for Tom Cherones and Andy Ackerman on Seinfeld
01:56
Thomas Azzari on how Seinfeld set a new standard for production
02:09
Thomas Azzari on why Seinfeld worked and the role of his sets on the show
01:28
Thomas Azzari on "Jerry"'s apartment and "Kramer"'s entrances on Seinfeld
01:21
Thomas Azzari on the art department on Seinfeld
01:00
Thomas Azzari on creating a graphics company with some of the Seinfeld art department
03:06
Thomas Azzari on all of the products featured on Seinfeld
02:12

Tom Cherones

View Interview
Tom Cherones on how he came to direct and produce Seinfeld
01:25
Tom Cherones on directing and producing Seinfeld
01:41
Tom Cherones on shooting Seinfeld and the look of the show
00:40
Tom Cherones on dealing with the actors in Seinfeld
01:54
Tom Cherones on the producing team of Seinfeld
01:09
Tom Cherones on the production process of Seinfeld
01:46
Tom Cherones on his style of filming Seinfeld
00:59
Tom Cherones on post production on Seinfeld
01:10
Tom Cherones on Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David's style of comedy
02:16
Tom Cherones on the characters on Seinfeld
02:10
Tom Cherones on shooting Jerry Seinfeld's standups on Seinfeld
00:57
Tom Cherones on working with Jerry Seinfeld
02:04
Tom Cherones on Larry David and the characters of Seinfeld
01:49
Tom Cherones on Julia Louis-Dreyfus as "Elaine" and Michael Richards as "Kramer" on Seinfeld
01:21
Tom Cherones on working with Larry David
01:13
Tom Cherones on being the "father" on Seinfeld
00:54
Tom Cherones on working with the older Seinfeld guest stars
00:52
Tom Cherones on directing the Seinfeld episode "The Stakeout"
02:02
Tom Cherones on directing the Seinfeld episode "The Pony Remark"
01:08
Tom Cherones on directing the Seinfeld  episode "The Chinese Restaurant"
03:22
Tom Cherones on how NBC dealt with Seinfeld
03:20
Tom Cherones on the Seinfeld  episode "The Parking Garage"
03:01
Tom Cherones on the Seinfeld episode "The Pez Dispenser" 
02:19
Tom Cherones on the Seinfeld  episode "The Contest"
01:41
Tom Cherones on the Seinfeld  episode "The Bubble Boy"
01:13
Tom Cherones on guest stars on Seinfeld
02:13
Tom Cherones on the Seinfeld episode "The Junior Mint"
01:32
Tom Cherones on the Seinfeld  episode "The Pilot"
02:51
Tom Cherones on the Seinfeld episodes "The Mango" and "The Puffy Shirt"
02:39
Tom Cherones on the Seinfeld episode "The Opposite"
00:32
Tom Cherones on Seinfeld catchphrases
01:17
Tom Cherones on leaving Seinfeld
01:28
Tom Cherones on the legacy of Seinfeld
01:17

Michael Chiklis

View Interview
Michael Chiklis on appearing on Seinfeld and enjoying the cast and set
03:42

Carlos Mencia with Emerson College

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Carlos Mencia on Jerry Seinfeld and the fact that he doesn't use profanity, and on Seinfeld
03:41

Judy Crown

View Interview
Judy Crown on dealing with wigs and hair extensions on shows like Seinfeld
04:43
Judy Crown on being hired to do hair for Seinfeld, and working with cast members Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards
04:56
Judy Crown on changing Julia Louis-Dreyfus' hair during the run of Seinfeld
00:59
Judy Crown on dealing with Jerry Seinfeld's hair on Seinfeld, and on her friendship with Seinfeld and the cast
04:18
Judy Crown on working with Jason Alexander on Seinfeld
04:00
Judy Crown on working with Larry David on Seinfeld
01:17
Judy Crown on a typical work week for her on Seinfeld
03:08
Judy Crown on working with Seinfeld directors Tom Cherones and Andy Ackerman
01:25
Judy Crown on working on specific episodes of Seinfeld dealing with hair, and on working on the finale
04:41

Michael Fuchs

View Interview
Michael Fuchs on turning down Seinfeld for HBO
01:33

Brad Garrett

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Brad Garrett on appearing on Seinfeld
00:43

James Hong

View Interview
James Hong on his approach to the role of the maitre d' on the classic Seinfeld episode "The Chinese Restaurant"
04:21
James Hong on playing "nothing" on Seinfeld
00:36

Warren Littlefield

View Interview
Warren Littlefield on NBC's transition from the Tartikoff era to the Littlefield era, which coincided with the end of Cheers and the beginning of Seinfeld
03:09
Warren Littlefield on the development of Seinfeld
01:48
Warren Littlefield on the development of Seinfeld 
06:48
Warren Littlefield on the nurturing of Seinfeld
02:10
Warren Littlefield on keeping Seinfeld on the air
00:55

Julia Louis-Dreyfus

View Interview
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on her character "Elaine Benes" on Seinfeld
02:41
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on her dancing on Seinfeld and how it came about
01:45
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on the Seinfeld finale
02:42
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on being cast on Seinfeld as "Elaine Benes"; on almost not being able to get out of her contract with Warner Bros. for the part
04:45
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on shooting her first four episodes of Seinfeld; on the tone of the show
01:10
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on the tone of Seinfeld and clicking with the cast
01:39
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on her character "Elaine Benes'" phrase "GET OUT!" on Seinfeld
00:38
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on her Seinfeld character "Elaine Benes'" strengths and weaknesses; on making Seinfeld's unlikable characters likable
01:49
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on "Elaine Benes'" sense of style on Seinfeld; on hiding her real-life pregnancy on the show
03:47
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on how iconic Seinfeld became and when she first realized how big an audience the show had amassed
03:51
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on there not being censorship issues in "The Contest" episode of Seinfeld
00:35
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on why Larry David was a great showrunner on Seinfeld; on his dedication to the show
00:32
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on "Elaine" and "Jerry's" relationship on Seinfeld and the Seinfeld episode "The Deal" when "Elaine" and "Jerry" sleep together again; on how Larry David helped craft the episode
02:21
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on "Elaine" and "George's" relationship on Seinfeld
01:34
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on "Elaine" and "Kramer's" relationship on Seinfeld
00:35
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on being the only woman on the set of Seinfeld
00:42
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on "David Puddy," one of "Elaine's" boyfriends on Seinfeld
00:56
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on her Seinfeld co-star John O'Hurley who played her boss "J. Peterman" and who went on to buy the J. Peterman Company in real life
01:18
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on winning an Emmy for her Seinfeld character "Elaine Benes"
01:08
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Seinfeld coming to an end
00:45
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on her favorite moments from Seinfeld 
01:32
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on where her Seinfeld character "Elaine Benes" would be today
00:10
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Seinfeld's legacy
00:50
Julia Louis-Dreyfus on the secrecy around shooting the finale of Seinfeld
00:52

Horace Newcomb

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Horace Newcomb on Seinfeld
01:51

Don Ohlmeyer

View Interview
Don Ohlmeyer on overseeing Cheers and Seinfeld
01:47
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on NBC's hit show Seinfeld
05:24
Executive Don Ohlmeyer on the final episode of Seinfeld
02:32

Rob Reiner

View Interview
Rob Reiner on Castle Rock's development of Seinfeld
03:00
Rob Reiner on the talents of Jerry Seinfeld and the success of Seinfeld
02:36

Paul Shaffer

View Interview
Paul Shaffer on missing the opportunity to co-star on Seinfeld
02:06

George Shapiro

View Interview
George Shapiro on packaging Seinfeld
14:01
George Shapiro on the cast of Seinfeld
07:51
George Shapiro on being proud of working with Jerry Seinfeld on Seinfeld
01:46

Jerry Stiller

View Interview
Jerry Stiller on working with Jason Alexander and Michael Richards on Seinfeld
02:36
Jerry Stiller on getting cast as "Frank Costanza" on Seinfeld
04:41
Jerry Stiller on the creative freedom and support he felt on Seinfeld
02:53
Jerry Stiller on his Seinfeld character "Frank Costanza" and his on-screen wife, played by Estelle Harris
04:42
Jerry Stiller on working with the cast of Seinfeld and the lack of rehearsal time on the show
05:29
Jerry Stiller on the coin trick he perfected on Seinfeld and the relationship between "Frank and George Costanza"
02:33
Jerry Stiller on the makeup, hair, and costumes for his Seinfeld character "Frank Costanza"
03:44
Jerry Stiller on his contract on Seinfeld
01:54
Jerry Stiller on the Seinfeld episode "The Doorman" in which he and "Kramer" make the "manssiere"
04:04
Jerry Stiller on the Seinfeld finale
02:30
Jerry Stiller on some of his favorite Seinfeld moments
01:06

Larry Wilmore

View Interview
Larry Wilmore on turning down chances to audition for and be on Seinfeld
01:30

Kim Zimmer

View Interview
Kim Zimmer on appearing on "The Diplomat's Club" episode of Seinfeld  (airdate: May 4, 1995)
02:02

Alan Zweibel

View Interview
Alan Zweibel on inspiring Larry David to write "The Pez Dispenser" episode of Seinfeld
04:50

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