Why They Hated ‘Seinfeld’

I was watching something on TV recently (can’t remember what) (can never remember what) when a promo came on for a show called “Momma’s Boy” dealing with several (possibly) junior high school-educated girls in their 20s competing to date a guy who (something tells me) has a job that pays a (presumably well-deserved unliveable) salary […]

Last Updated: April 27, 2009 @ 2:31 PM
I was watching something on TV recently (can’t remember what) (can never remember what) when a promo came on for a show called “Momma’s Boy” dealing with several (possibly) junior high school-educated girls in their 20s competing to date a guy who (something tells me) has a job that pays a (presumably well-deserved unliveable) salary but, in a (seriously subversive) twist, the guy’s (hateful, verbose, clinging and borderline perverted) mother gets to approve of her son’s choice of dates and — suddenly something (belatedly) dawned on me: Network television was out of the comedy business. I guess I missed it, but somewhere they just threw up their hands and said… We quit.
 
Well, whatever. Since that promo, I’ve been feeling my very first wave of nostalgia for “Seinfeld.” I mean, even though in the 10-plus years after the show ended I’ve compiled about 55 plot lines for new episodes, I’ve never been overly nostalgic about it. But since not only the show is gone but its entire genre is too, nostalgia dropped in and I have to say, it’s amazingly pleasant. Even Surprising. I’ll tell you about it. In a moment.
 
In the days and weeks after the “Momma’s Boy” promo, whenever I’d bump into someone who worked for the network comedy departments (what’s in those office suites now?), I’d wind up asking, "Honestly, now that you’re (at best) working in the suburbs of the TV business, what did the networks back then really think of ‘Seinfeld’?" The most commonly used word was “aberration.” As in "The show was seen as an aberration." The second most commonly used word was “hated.” As in, "Everyone at the networks hated it. Even people at NBC hated it. Oh, they liked it as TV viewers (and wage earners), but as executives, they hated it. "
 
I suspected as much for a long time, so this was no big surprise. “Seinfeld” induced writers to pitch comedies that strived to be funny and that went against everything the network comedy people stood for. The networks wanted heart over brains because they were confident their viewers had hearts.
 
As opposed to “Seinfeld” writers. Since the end of the show, I’ve been met with shock whenever I’ve written or pitched a script that even hinted at human emotion. So, so, so, so not fair.
 
Nostalgia is kind of like an emotion, no?
 
Let me tell you the shape of “Seinfeld” nostalgia. You know how most people feel their deepest nostalgia for college? I used to. But “Seinfeld” has taken over, and that makes sense. “Seinfeld” was college, only much better: hanging out on a campus (studio lot) with funny, smart friends all day, feeling superior to everyone else in society and having a new crop of freshmen girls (actresses) coming to your frat house (office) every week. It was a dream.
 
And speaking of dreams, these days, instead of having nightmares about having missed every class before a final exam, I now have dreams that I’m 20 episodes into a “Seinfeld” season and haven’t written one script.
 
Then I wake up, think about all that’s been touched off in me by “Momma’s Boy,” and fall back asleep in peace.
 
Then I wake up and see online that “The Biggest Loser” gained back 122 pounds and I live whole my life in peace.

 

After graduating from the University of Maryland, Peter Mehlman started his career as a writer for the Washington Post. He slid from print journalism to television when, from 1982 to 1984, he wrote for and produced the television series, “SportsBeat” with Howard Cosell. For the next five years he returned to writing full sentences as a freelance writer in New York. His byline appeared in numerous national publications including the New York Times magazine, GQ, Esquire and every women’s magazine imaginable... 

 

In 1989 he moved to Los Angeles where he bumped into Larry David, whom he'd met twice in New York.  David, was developing “a little show with Jerry Seinfeld”, and invited Mehlman to submit a sample script. Having never written a script, Mehlman sent a humor piece he had written for the New York Times Magazine. Jerry Seinfeld loved it and gave Mehlman a writing assignment, out of which came the series’ first freelance episode, “The Apartment.” Mehlman was hired for the first full season of “Seinfeld” (1991-92) and wrote 23 episodes during the next six years and became an executive producer. 

 

Mehlman is most famous for his “Yada Yada” episode, and he is also the author of such now classic Seinfeld-isms as “spongeworthy” and “shrinkage” and “double-dipping.” 

 

In 1997, Mehlman joined DreamWorks and created “It’s like, you know...,” a scathing look at Los Angeles. In recent years, he has continued creating TV shows, writing screenplays and humor pieces for NPR, Esquire, The New York Times, Washington Post and LA Times while also appearing on-camera for TNT Sports and his own web program “Pete Mehlman’s Narrow World of Sports."