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The Couch Potato

August 28, 2013

The Couch Potato: Seinfeld isn’t the only common theme for TV hits

NEW CASTLE — This week’s Couch Potato entry is a bit more technical in nature than previous posts. So hold onto your seats for this non-stop thrill ride as I explore the depths of “Seinfeld” roots in modern TV.

If you’re not a “Seinfeld” fan, that’s OK. I mean, I’m seriously questioning your life up until this point if you’re not, but you still have a chance for redemption. How? Because Seinfeld’s seminal television “show about nothing” has sprouted a new generation of shows following in its mold.

For those unaware, Larry David, star and creator of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” was the co-creator, head writer and executive producer of “Seinfeld” when the whole thing got started back in the late 1980s. David was a flailing stand-up who became friends with Jerry Seinfeld on the New York comedy circuit. The two pitched the idea of “Seinfeld” to NBC when the actual Seinfeld was offered a developmental deal.

The rest is history with “Seinfeld” starting off very slowly (it was almost canceled), and then morphing into the biggest comedy of the 1990s — and perhaps ever.

David left the show around 1996 and two things happened. One, the show developed a unique tone previously unseen in the early 90s. The “show about nothing” had become an intricately designed web of stories centering on the four characters separately, but all intertwining by the end. Secondly, the show continued to grow its audience and virtually dominated the ratings for its final three seasons.

It became so big that Seinfeld was offered the largest contract in television history to keep the show going, but turned it down so he could go out on top.

Anyway, when Larry David left the show, three of his writers moved up to the executive producer role. One of them was Jeff Shaffer, and along with David Mandel and Alec Berg, the three basically owned the final 44 episodes of the series. Some people loved these episodes, others hated them. But you could not deny that these were “Seinfeld’s” biggest years on the air.

The common theme was that these episodes featured the previously mentioned intertwining of stories.

After Seinfeld ended in 1998, a void was left on television just waiting to be filled. Finally, Larry David stepped in and somewhat accidentally filled it with his HBO special, which turned into the series “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

The show was was pretty much an immediate success when it premiered in 2000 and talks for a ninth season are still ongoing. While the show differs from “Seinfeld” in style, it’s a faux-reality series that follows the fictional version of Larry David around Hollywood. Like Seinfeld, it kept providing similar laughs.

The “Seinfeld” character of “George” was based on the real-life Larry David and this show provided an outlet for a real life “George” walking around Hollywood. The same ridiculous antics from Seinfeld were on full display, but something else was, too. 

Not surprisingly, Larry David had brought some Seinfeld people into the mix to help with his new show. One of those people was Jeff Shaffer, who had run those final 44 episodes of “Seinfeld.”

“Curb Your Enthusiasm” was exhibiting many of those same qualities of the final 44 episodes.

For example, characters who randomly crossed paths early in the episode, usually with comedic circumstances attached, were bound to run into each other later in the episode at the most inopportune times. These minor life coincidences and intertwinings often bordered on the ridiculous in “Seinfeld,” and even more so in “Curb.”

While ridiculous, this model provided for uncomfortable situations that dominate the experience of life. David was mining this comedic principle in his new show, which mimicked that of the final 44 in “Seinfeld.”

That all leads us to the past year. My friend recommended watching FX’s show “The League,” which centers on a group of friends who play Fantasy Football together. I checked it out via Netflix and found that the first season was decent enough. I continued to watch and found the following seasons to be even funnier.

As I got more engrossed in the show, I started to notice similarities in structure of the plots to that of “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”  When I researched this point, I was not surprised to find that the creator, head writer and executive producer of “The League” is none other than Jeff Shaffer.

So there you have it, folks. I was going to bore you with actual plot details and examples, but that was going to be way too tedious.

What I recommend all of you do is check out “Seinfeld,” “Curb” and “The League” and see if you can pick out the similarities in structure, plot and most importantly, comedy.

 

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