Twenty-five years ago this month a little TV show premiered on NBC. Not considered good enough or appealing enough for mainstream audiences, this pilot episode was burned off during the summer, outside of the regular TV season. It was a show about a New York City comedian and his oddball friends as they did exciting things like talk about the placement of buttons on shirts and wait for a table at a Chinese restaurant. Many TV critics, as well as the executives at NBC, didn't know what to make of this odd pilot and figured that this show would be a "one and done" -- broadcast once and then never seen again.
Instead it went on to change television history.
"Seinfeld" was a show of its time and ahead of its time. Although the first episode was shown in 1989, it became the defining show of the 1990s. What made it stand out? What made it so great? What made it so ... revolutionary?
Many reasons but, most of all, "Seinfeld" was defined but what it wasn't. It wasn't sentimental. It wasn't warm and funny. It wasn't about anything important. It was about four very unlikable New Yorkers as they wandered about the city and vented about the trivialities and petty annoyances of life. "No hugging, no learning" was the mantra of co-creator Larry David. But most of all, it was a show that appealed to the intelligence of its viewers, that invited the audience to be in on the in-jokes, that said "you're smart, you'll get this humor" -- and tens of millions of people did. It was a low-concept show with a very high IQ.
It was a real New York show. It was the first time that a show with a deep-seeded NYC sensibility permeated middle America. You might say today that it was a very Blue America show that Red America embraced.
You also have to remember what was on TV in 1989. Shows like "Cosby" and "Cheers" were popular at the time -- family friendly, touchingly sentimental shows with an "aw-shucks" humor that were set either in family homes or work places. "Seinfeld" was the opposite of these shows -- it was about four single New Yorkers who were supposedly friends but didn't seem to like each other very much.
"Seinfeld" went off the air in 1998 but today, 17 years later, it's still very popular. You can still catch repeats of it on TV. Also, there is a Twitter feed called "SeinfeldToday" that incorporates that various aspects of social media and smart phone culture that didn't exist back during the show's hey-day. The legacy and impact of this late 20th century show still reverberates here in the 21st. In many ways, in this age where the trivial predominates while the world burns, "Seinfeld" is more relevant today than ever before.