The first conversation between Jerry and George was about the position of the second button on shirts. That position is key to a good shirt, argued Jerry, starting one of the most successful comedies in history. It’s easy to understand that, with an opening dialogue like this, the pilot of Seinfeld was a failure. The episode was shown to a test audience getting one of the most forceful rejections ever remembered on NBC. Most viewers said they were not willing to watch a second episode and also did not like the characters. Of course, that was the idea, but that’s easier to see now than it was 30 years ago. At that time NBC gave up on the project. And yes, they premiered the pilot, on July 5th, 1989, with the title “The Seinfeld Chronicles”, but if it had been for the bosses of NBC then, that would have been the end of it there. We would have gone on without getting lost looking for the car in a parking lot, nor waiting forever to order in a Chinese restaurant.
Because that’s what Seinfeld was about. About nothing. Or rather, about how “nothing” became comedy, material for a comedian. The project initially consisted of a 90-minute special explaining the process that led a humorist from observation of the mundane to a joke, and the first trial runs for the idea, both protagonists were comedians, reflecting the relationship between Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, the two creators. The idea came from the fact that it was a project that emerged from the special and late nights department of NBC. But as they worked on the project, they turned it into a half-hour sitcom, leaving George without any trade or life-project and including real life characters, such as Kramer, Larry David’s neighbor. Although with these changes the series no longer belonged to his department, it was Rick Ludwin, of specials and late nights, who convinced the bosses at NBC to dedicate even a portion of the department’s budget to revamp this poorly performing pilot.
It was renewed for four more episodes, in American television’s shortest renovation in history, thereby creating the first season of Seinfeld with only five episodes. After those five, there would be a further 175 episodes more, with characters as hilarious as the Nazi soup chef, also taken from real life, iconic phrases such as “Yada Yada” and even celebrations such as the Festivus. The tandem of Jerry and Larry stuck to their guns of making a “series about nothing” and avoided developing their characters and writing long-term relationships into the plot, but the series found an audience that appreciated it and it soon became a major hit, with a final episode that is among the most followed in history. 30 years after that failed pilot it seems impossible that we were so close to missing out on Seinfeld. Fortunately, today it’s part of many people’s day-to-day of those of us who regularly return to watch it on Amazon Prime Video.