At 30 Years Old, 'Seinfeld' Is Still Master Of Its Domain

One of the interesting things about “Seinfeld” is the almost aimless way it meandered onto TV at the beginning of its history.

The first episode of “Seinfeld” premiered on July 5, 1989. And since the anniversary of that date just passed last Friday, you're seeing various commentaries and TV news features on the show and its legacy. TBS even ran a marathon of “Seinfeld” episodes over the recent holiday weekend.

Certainly, it is valid to consider this date in 1989 as the birthday of “Seinfeld.” But it is also true that the show had another name on that day -- “The Seinfeld Chronicles” -- and it did not really become a full-fledged series until more than two years later, in September 1991.

That was the start of what Wikipedia and other sources consider to be “Seinfeld’s” third season. But it also happens to be the first season in which the show had a season's worth of episodes -- 23 -- airing within the parameters of the fall-to-spring TV season (September to May).



In fact, the show's first “season” consisted of only five episodes that were stretched over a period just shy of one year -- from the premiere of the first one in July 1989 to June 1990.

These are the episodes you encounter from time to time at the very beginning of the show's syndication cycle. It was the very beginning of “Seinfeld,” and the characters, and indeed the show’s style generally, were not yet defined.

Season Two, such as it was, consisted of just 12 episodes running from January to June 1991.

Various sources credit one-time NBC executive Rick Ludwin with being the principal champion behind the development and subsequent survival of this sitcom that emerged from those first two short and very uncertain seasons to become one of the top two or three most storied shows in all of television history.

One question about “Seinfeld” that still persists 30 years after it was born is this: What explains the show’s continuing popularity (as reflected in the fact that it is still a staple of syndication and streaming here in 2019)?

Like many another popular TV show, “Seinfeld” is looking more and more dated as the years go by, from the fashions to the social customs. Perhaps more to the point, the culture of computers, cell phones and social media is absent in the day-to-day lives of these characters from the 1990s.

Today, 21 years after “Seinfeld” had its finale in May 1998, these three icons of our modern world are firmly entrenched. They are technologies almost everyone encounters and uses every single day for, among other reasons, watching (and commenting on) TV shows.

 “Friends” -- a contemporary of “Seinfeld” from the same era on NBC -- also remains popular today. It is said to even be gaining in popularity among a generation of younger Americans who were not even born when the show's episodes first aired on NBC (1994-2004).

That show also can be seen as a relic from the pre-social media age. And there are those who argue that “Friends” is even more timeless than “Seinfeld,” and easier to take today, because of the warmth that exists between the six main characters.

As most people familiar with “Seinfeld” know well, the writers of “Seinfeld” purposely avoided the kinds of warm relationships that were typical of network sitcoms at the time in order to take their show in different directions than what was typical at the time.

Perhaps both shows continue to be popular at least in part because they do not feature their characters constantly yakking into, or staring at, smartphones. Instead, the characters are seen relating to each other personally.

Indeed, a number of the mix-ups on “Seinfeld,” in which the four friends missed appointments to get together with each other, would not even be possible today in the era of constant cell phone communications. Simpler times? Maybe.

In the final analysis, one measure of cultural impact -- especially where a TV show is concerned -- is the money it made. It has been estimated that “Seinfeld” has made more than $4 billion in syndication.

That's a lot of something, for a show about nothing.

2 comments about "At 30 Years Old, 'Seinfeld' Is Still Master Of Its Domain".
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  1. David Scardino from TV & Film Content Development, July 9, 2019 at 2:41 p.m.

    The greatness of "Seinfeld" was in the writing, particularly in the first four seasons. And season four, basically about the faux "Jerry" show, is quite possibly the best single season any TV comedy has ever had. 

  2. William Graff from beIN Media Group, July 9, 2019 at 3:02 p.m.

    Good point about both series' ongoing success with younger viewers possibly motivated by a "yearning for simpler times." I remember when Nick at Nite (and later TV Land) launched targeting nostalgic baby boomers, but also delivering teenagers who found respite from racy contemporary fare in the innocence of the Partridge Family and Brady Bunch.

    BTW, Adam, I hate to nitpick, but you're too good a writer to confuse "between" and "among": "...even more timeless than “Seinfeld,” and easier to take today, because of the warmth that exists between the six main characters."

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