Seinfeld’s Stumble to Success

The brainchild of comedian Jerry Seinfeld and comedy writer Larry David, Seinfeld initially suffered from some seriously lackluster ratings, and many believed it would end up on the chopping block at NBC. Originally called The Seinfeld Chronicles during pilot season in 1989, the first episode began with George Costanza (Jason Alexander) and Jerry having a drab conversation about the placement of a button on George’s shirt. We were then introduced to Jerry’s neighbor Kessler (played by Michael Richards), who knocked on his door looking to borrow some meat. Neither the odd dialogue between Jerry and George nor the mooching-neighbor angle played well with audiences, and didn’t seem likely to make them tune in to future episodes.

Nevertheless, on May 31st, 1990, the newly renamed Seinfeld (also revised with the addition of the Elaine Benes character, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and with Kessler’s name changed to Kramer) returned, but was still plagued by low numbers. After fighting for its life for the next few seasons, the Nielsen numbers slowly began to improve, and by season four, Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine had finally found their niche among the top 30 shows on television. A mere two years later, thanks to classic episodes like “The Contest,” “The Non-Fat Yogurt” and “The Couch,” Seinfeld became the number-one show on television.

The pop-culture status of the show was cemented by diehard fans, who to this day regularly quote words, lines and phrases such as “re-gifting,” “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” and “yadda yadda yadda.” One of the qualities that made the show such a huge success during its eight-year run was the ability of its writers to intertwine the seemingly disconnected stories of each character during an episode into a beautifully crafted payoff that ultimately connected them all. And nothing was ever wasted: The series finale of Seinfeld ends with George and Jerry having the most riveting conversation about the placement of a button on George’s shirt.

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