Seinfeld: Why "A show about nothing"?

Seinfeld is often referred to as a ‘show about nothing’, a concept made fun of when Jerry and George did Jerry . I don’t get it though. Seinfeld seemed to be a typical, (although much much better than most), sitcom. Most episodes followed the same format.

Jerry, Elaine George and Kramer have established characters
Somehow all 4 get into a bizarre yet comedic situation based on their character
Situations overlap, and get then get concluded right before end credits.

All in all exactly how your normal sitcom works.

So why the ‘show about nothing’ designation?

Well, it was the first show in that age of TV that didn’t have a set format. Most sitcoms at the time had either a distinct setting (ie “Night Court”, “Taxi”, “Cheers”) or a distinct relationship (ie “Three’s Company” was about two girls and a guy trying to live together and deceive their landlord, “Laverne and Shirley” was about two best friends, etc).

If you think about it, that’s how sitcoms were. There was a clear set up, either by way of a PLACE that created funny situations, or a RELATIONSHIP that did so. (“The Cosby Show” and “Family Ties” were about families.)

This was the first time we’d seen a sitcom that was based around… well, nothing in particular. It was a familiar cast of characters, all of whom knew each other, but they had no particular relationship. We can look back now and say it’s the same as a sitcom like “Friends” or something, but at the time, this was a novel idea. It lacked any of the obvious set-ups that other sitcoms needed as a platform. This sitcom didn’t have a platform. It was just Jerry Seinfeld and all the random crazy things that happen to him and a ragtag group of people around him. That’s it. And at the time, it was unheard of for a sitcom to be launched without there being any clear idea as to what, specifically, it was about.

Is it about Seinfeld’s family and the struggles they go through as a family? No.

Is it about where he works and the characters and situations that come from that place? No.

Was it about one particular character and how s/he affects those around him/her? No. (Even the bit parts were often characters.)

You’re right, every sitcom is like that now. But Seinfeld was the pioneer that made it possible.

A lot of the situations themselves arise from the mundane and the ordinary. Waiting for a table in a Chinese restaurant or searching for a car in a mall parking ramp can take up an entire episode. The plots were rarely “wacky” or “outrageous” (epecially in the first several seasons) in the usual vein of sitcoms. It wasn’t a show about extraordinary people or extraordinary situations, it was about ordinary people in ordinary situations and finding the humor in that (a lot of which targeted the principle characters’ own self-absorbtion, superficiality and other moral weakness in response to those situations.

it wasn’t really about nothing but it was about nothing out of the ordinary, there’s no high concept, no sit-com hook, so that’s what’s generally meant by “a show about nothing.”

Note that the term “a show about nothing” differentiated Seinfeld from other shows, which were frequently About Something. Before Seinfeld, other shows, even comedies, often had tacked-on, syrupy, After-School-Special messages about the importance of family/honesty/humility or whathaveyou.

Part of Seinfeld’s Great Leap Forward was that they didn’t try to make us better people for having watched, or to inject some kind of hypersimlified morality lesson into the entertainment. There was no medicine in the spoonful of sugar.

The show’s writers, I’ve heard, had a motto: “No hugging, no learning.”

“A show about nothing” was just a marketing crutch. This show was about how selfishness is secretly an attractive trait.

And hilarious.

I couldn’t agree more.

According to the Seinfeld DVD release promo show, the phrase originated with Brandon Tartikoff’s take on the Chinese Rest. episode script. He couldn’t understand why anyone would want to watch 20 minutes of people waiting for a table.

Clearly it’s a show about something as much as any other. All of the characters have their situations and relationships. A few of the episodes highlight the absurdity of minor things in life. Most didn’t.

The more apt phrase is that it’s a show about children. Never grow up (vs. hugs), never learn.

You might enjoy reading this thread from last year.

I never imagined that I would ever dedicate so much verbiage to deconstructing Seinfeld. I’ll cut&paste a bit of it which sums up my view on the question as concisely as I can manage – which you’ll probably agree isn’t nearly concise enough. :smiley:

Seinfeld’s comedy schtick is about the absurdity of everyday life. Me must have in injected by Albert Camus except with humor.

The show was more or less the same. That and selfishness-like the scene in the restaurant where the father starts telling about his son, the “bubble boy”, who must live in this sterile bubble. The father starts to cry, as does Elaine who hands him a napkin to wipe away the tears. She takes herself and hands one to Jerry who calmly starts wiping the food off his mouth.

I always HATED it when some talking head on the news would say “it’s a show about…well…nothing” as if this was a unique and personal observation.

Well, IIRC, it originally had a gimmick. Jerry would do about 5-10 minutes of standup, and the rest of the episode revolved around that. That gimmick was phased out. My uneducated WAG is that the show wouldn’t have originally been greenlighted if it had been pitched the way the fake “Jerry” show was pitched (without any sort of gimmick).

I think Jerry Seinfeld said, “Actually, it’s a show about anything, not nothing.”

Any random topic of annoyance in a writer’s life became an episode.

I don’t know…I can see the premise of the show being described as: “It’s about a stand-up comic living in New York and dealing with his dysfunctional group of friends and family and his own neuroses”. Seems just as apt a description as any of the others you listed, the only difference being that the show had no “good guy”…they were all unsympathetic characters.

…amongst single baby boomers in New York who are either Jewish or crypto-Jewish.

Admittedly, when you put it that way, it deosn’t sound nearly as fresh or original as being About Nothing. So let’s just say it was About Nothing They Cared To Admit To.

Excellent point kittenblue.

Again in the Seinfeld DVD promo show, they mentioned how it was (falsely) pitched where each episode was going to be about how a comic comes up with his material. There were remnants of that in the “Seinfeld Chronicles” version.

But it was a “sitcom” in that it did have a “situation”. It had characters of various fixed natures. Etc.

If you want to talk about shows about nothing, then bring up “Andy Griffith” and “Gomer Pyle”.

Andy Griffeth is a good point. It did have some rote “situations” but one of the things that was unusal about it for its time was that not every second of action and dialogue served the interest of the plot. The show often showed characters sitting around talking about nothing in particular and nothing that really had anything to do with the story (especially in scenes with Andy and Barney). Barney might spend a few minutes of dialogue talking in an amusing way about something completely irrelevant to the plot like judo or handwashing compulsions or something. It gave the show a relaxed tone and conveyed a feeling of easiness and low stress which felt “small town.”

Usually in episodic teleivion, even now (and movie stoo, for that matter) every bit of dialogue and action serves the story in some way. It was somewhat groundbreaking to throw in completely unnecessary, seemingly irrelevant dialogue, but it actually made the show better, made the characters better and made Mayberry feel more like a real town.

I think some influence can be seen not only in Seinfeld but alos, weirdly enough, in the films of Quentin Tarantino who elevated the use of irrelevant dialogue to an art form in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.

It’s about four dysfuntional friends who shouldn’t be in the same city, but are often in the same room or at the same restaurant table. Fireworks ensue.

Sorry, the “show about nothing” was just a hip tagline added to the show.
Nothing really groundbreaking about it.

It had characters the same way Laverne and Shirley did. Sure, you could say “Laverne and Shirley was about two friends living together in Milwaukee who work at a brewery and the daily crazy situations they get into. There are also crazy frineds and relatives, i.e. Lenny and Squiggy, Pop, etc.”

“Seinfled was about a stand up comediene living in a New York apartment and his group of friends and the daily crazy situations they get into. There are also other crazy characters, i.e. a nutty mailman, George’s crazy parents, etc.”

Original? Hardly.
Episode where George has to sneak into his girlfriend’s apartment to try to get the answering machine tape so she can’t hear his mean message he left.
Seen it 20 years previously when Laverene and Shirley had to sneak into her bosses office to get back the mean letter she wrote to him.

Not to say the show wasn’t funny (it was), but to idolize it as a “never been done before” concept is a little much.

Right. There were plenty of sitcom episodes about being “master of your domain.”