Oshkosh Scholar Submission Volume VI 2011

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appeal to a mass audience Rather the author argues that the two most important factors that have. caused Seinfeld to be placed among the highest of television pedestals were the two ground. breaking ideals of narrowcasting to a niche audience on a broadcast network and running past the. line of controversial subject matter instead of staying well behind it like its predecessors had. Introduction, Someone once coined the phrase Desperate times call for desperate measures In other. words being backed into a corner is not necessarily a bad thing in a conflict for an underdog. because it allows him or her to try new and risky tactics to achieve a goal This was the situation. for NBC president Warren Littlefield in 1992 Because NBC was languishing far behind ABC. and CBS in primetime ratings Littlefield decided to give some leeway in regards to some. controversial scripts and episode themes to a struggling show called Seinfeld which was. embarking on its fourth season Littlefield believed that Seinfeld could be the key to jumpstart. NBC s primetime lineup He did not however have any idea that his actions would have a direct. impact on the show becoming one of the greatest half hour programs in television history. To succeed NBC and Seinfeld needed other supporters as well A few key allies like. perfect timing and natural talent are also needed to overcome obstacles to become something. special and unique It is my argument that it was actually a near perfect combination of all of. those factors that took a struggling situation comedy that was scuffling in its third season on the. air and made it into a network behemoth and one of the most critically acclaimed most watched. and most discussed programs in television history, To achieve the kind of network success that paves the road to the riches of syndication. each hit television show has some kind of a niche that appeals to the ever developing American. primetime audience Bonanza Gunsmoke Little House on the Prairie and even Star Trek. appealed to viewers sense of adventure in discovering new and exciting places for themselves. All in the Family Chico and the Man and Maude forced audiences to think outside prejudicial. upbringings and realize that the stereotypes they developed only revealed their own personal. shortcomings The 1980s gave America masterpieces like Miami Vice and Moonlighting that. were shot more like movies than television shows This time though viewers enjoyed them on. the small screen and so weren t compelled to go to the theater to enjoy epic productions. Currently the line between television and the film industry is at its blurriest Alias ER Lost. Mad Men and The Sopranos have provided several other niches into broadcasting such as. ensemble casts and serial storytelling, The successful highest rated situation comedies of the 1980s like Cheers ranked by. Nielsen in the top 10 in eight of its 11 seasons including one season at the top The Cosby Show. the country s number one rated show for four consecutive years Schwarzbaum A Different. World a top five show according to Nielsen in its first four years Hunt Family Ties a top five. program for three of its seasons and Growing Pains a top 30 show for all but one of its seasons. topping out at number eight in the Nielsen ratings twice all followed one basic premise. assemble a group of talented actors complete with jokesters and straight men alike as long as. they fit into a family ideal The main theme of situation comedies before Seinfeld was that of a. family who grows and learns together taking away some sort of lesson that increases their. wisdom and love for each other at the end of each installment of the show While Cheers and A. Different World were not family comedies per se the cast interacted with each other and were. socially similar to the casts of the other three more traditional family comedies They were also. all essentially three camera sitcoms that were mostly shot on soundstages in studios When one. became successful networks were eager to give money to the new programs that followed the. same rubric, When producers and writers Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld approached NBC president. Warren Littlefield about a show that didn t have those same family aspects i e a show starring. a stand up comedian his best friend his ex girlfriend and his crazy neighbor Littlefield was. slow to approve it David even tried to sell it as a show about nothing as was depicted in the. story arc of the fourth season with the one hour episode The Pitch The Ticket This was of. course the episode that led critics and fans to refer to Seinfeld as the show about nothing since. that is how Seinfeld and his friend George Costanza Jason Alexander pitched the show idea to. the fictional NBC executives The Seinfeld Chronicles later renamed Seinfeld struggled to hold. a consistent audience But shortly after its fourth season began something began to change The. niche audience it did manage to corral was growing rapidly And after NBC slated Seinfeld for. the 9 30 p m eastern standard time slot immediately after the current top rated primetime sit. com Cheers it began to garner much stronger ratings than the preceding barroom comedy. Documentary In fact after being ranked 42 in the 1991 92 season before its Cheers lead in. Seinfeld vaulted all the way up to 25 in the 1992 93 season according to the Nielsen ratings. making it a hit Castleman and Podrazik 2003 363, At the end of its fifth season Seinfeld was shooting to the top of the Nielsen ratings It is.
almost always near the top of any greatest television shows of all time list and in many cases. it holds the top spot It became the show that NBC designed its entire primetime lineup around. for its last five seasons on the air Yet to the untrained media critic it remains a point of. contention as to how exactly Seinfeld became so beloved with viewers and critics alike. However after researching what other television critics and historians have written about. the show and re watching episodes dozens of times the key to Seinfeld s success can be found in. the fourth season of the series As Littlefield put it In the fourth season of Seinfeld the fact of. the matter is Jerry and Larry now had the license to go anywhere they wanted to go And we. were along for the ride And we just said You know what Your brilliant minds will take us. anywhere Documentary, The research questions posed herein are 1 what steps led to the opportunity that NBC. gave Seinfeld to become the flagship of the network 2 why did Season Four stand out as the. breakout season of the show and 3 what sorts of changes did Seinfeld undergo from Season. Three to Season Four While I will discuss the Season Four story arc of Jerry and George s. attempt to strike a deal with NBC for a TV show as a whole I will highlight three episodes from. the season The Bubble Boy The Contest and The Junior Mint as they exemplify the. reasons why Seinfeld made the sizable leap from good to great. I argue that Seinfeld and David used a combination of their talented writing skills a niche. audience a hospitable network that valued critical response and an opportunity to take big risks. in story arcs to take Seinfeld from a middling run of the mill sit com to a legendary blockbuster. While the first three seasons of Seinfeld were rather pedestrian and did not stand out from other. situation comedies before it the transition from Season Three to Season Four not only changed. the face of Seinfeld for its final six seasons but forever changed the landscape of network. primetime situation comedies to come,Historical Background. In the late 1980s stand up comedian Jerry Seinfeld was touring comedy club after. comedy club until NBC executives met with him about writing a script for a potential show on. the network Seinfeld and Larry David Seinfeld s friend and fellow stand up comedian then. worked together on writing a pilot for a show that was initially titled The Seinfeld Chronicles. The idea of the show was to follow the life of a stand up comedian living in New York and his. interactions with three of his closest friends, This was a bit of a venture from how other hit sit coms were developed by starring a. stand up comedian For instance Bill Cosby played Cliff Huxtable an OB GYN on The Cosby. Show Tim Allen portrayed Tim Taylor host of a do it yourself cable show called Tool Time. on Home Improvement Roseanne Barr was Roseanne Connor a stay at home mom and then a. part time diner waitress on Roseanne But as Castleman and Podrazik wrote Jerry Seinfeld. playing a stand up comedian on Seinfeld was what truly branded the show in its own unique. This was a break from The Cosby Show formula of using aspects of a stand up. act s persona to create a fictional alter ego in another profession Seinfeld was. more in the tradition of The Jack Benny Show casting the star in a fictionalized. version of himself It was a perfect comedy role because given the nature of his. job Jerry Seinfeld was left with plenty of off stage time to do nothing in. particular but hang out with his friend George Costanza Jason Alexander. former girlfriend Elaine Benes Julia Louis Dreyfus and across the hall. apartment building neighbor Cosmo Kramer Michael Richards another regular. from Fridays thus earning the show a reputation for being about nothing. Castleman and Podrazik 2003 364, As most pilots go it was not an instant success when the show premiered in 1989 But. NBC still had faith that they had a hit on their hands They ordered four more episodes of the. show from Seinfeld and David who was one of the executive producers of the show and. those episodes sparked more interest from viewers NBC then ordered a half season s worth of. shows 13 episodes for Seinfeld s second season ending in 1991 Executive producers George. Shapiro and Howard West saw the show take off with help from writer director Larry Charles. NBC ran full 26 episode seasons of Seinfeld starting in 1992 until it went off the air as the. highest rated program in the Nielsen ratings in 1998 at the end of its ninth season. While the show was based on the stand up comedy career of Seinfeld who played. himself on the show three other major characters played off each other to enhance the comedy. by playing the straight man and punch line deliverer throughout the program They were. George Elaine and Kramer,Character Overview, Jason Alexander played George Costanza a character that Seinfeld and David based on.
David s personality Costanza was the unlovable Biff Loman esque loser of the show. Loman of course was the eternal loser from the famous Arthur Miller play Death of a. Salesman While Seinfeld at times appeared shallow and superficial Costanza could stoop even. lower The short slow witted stocky bald Costanza inevitably was fired from jobs lost. girlfriends in comically embarrassing breakups and was even forced to move back in with his. parents in his thirties, Elaine Benes Julia Louis Dreyfus who played Seinfeld s ex girlfriend is a bit of a. strange character She continues to date other men but still spends most of her time with. Seinfeld Costanza and Kramer Benes is a successful writer and editor on the show and is the. lone female in a largely male centered cast Originally the lone female starring role was given to. Lee Garlington who played a waitress named Claire at the coffee shop frequented by Seinfeld. and Costanza However Garlington only appeared in the pilot She was replaced by Louis. Dreyfus for the second episode and every show afterward. Cosmo Kramer Seinfeld s next door neighbor is perhaps the wackiest character on the. program He s a tall man with high wavy hair and he usually wears vintage clothing that. always seems to be a bit too small for his frame His classic quick burst into Seinfeld s apartment. became a recurring theme on the show as did his ability to live a carefree life in New York. without having a steady love interest or a job to support himself with Kramer was also known. for coming up with numerous get rich schemes that rarely panned out He offered the majority of. physical comic relief on the program with his trademark quick slide entrances through Jerry s. apartment door setting his hair on fire with a cigar and his inability to remove slim fit jeans. Of all the main characters Kramer was also the bluntest about sharing his true feelings. no matter who was present Jerry even told Kramer in one episode that he Jerry was in the. unfortunate position of caring about other people s feelings intimating that Kramer was. oblivious to them Paolucci and Richardson state that this is why the Kramer character became so. popular with audiences In these pursuits our institutional structure often makes it impossible. for us to be authentic in our presentation of self which is why we like Kramer so much By using. humor Seinfeld is both sympathetic to and critical of our absurd and arbitrary rules and helps us. see through them Paolucci and Richardson 2006 46 Yet despite the poor personality traits. exhibited by both George and Kramer they were named by TV Guide as two of television s. greatest characters of all time Sony Pictures,Show Themes. Seinfeld did not break every mold however For instance one of the main themes that the. show writers wanted to get across was the traditional reset outcome not unlike most situation. comedies To exemplify this type of classic sit com outcome shows like Full House and even. Night Court feature moments at the end of each episode that demonstrate the strength of the. Oshkosh Scholar Submission Volume VI 2011 How Nothing Became Something The Evolution of Seinfeld Eric Balkman author Justine Stokes Radio TV Film faculty adviser Eric Balkman will graduate in December 2011 with a double major in journalism and radio TV film His research on Seinfeld began when he was a sophomore at UW Fox Valley as a term paper for a philosophy of the arts class

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