Page From the Past: A Show About Nothing

Script page from pilot episode of "Seinfeld." Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division.

Script page from pilot episode of “Seinfeld.” Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division.

When “The Seinfeld Chronicles” first aired on NBC on July 5, 1989, no one could have predicted that the “show about nothing” would become a cultural phenomenon. Inspired by real-life people and events, the show followed the life of a stand-up comedian and his friends.

The pilot episode (pictured left), written by show creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, featured sidekick George Costanza, played by Jason Alexander, and neighbor Kessler (later Kramer) played by Michael Richards. The plot centered on Jerry’s uncertainty about the romantic intentions of a female houseguest. Like the 179 episodes that followed over the series’ nine seasons, hilarity ensued.

But not everyone was laughing at first. The show was rated poorly by a test audience. Fortunately, television critics were kinder and network executives persisted in finding a spot for it in the 1990 line-up. Renamed “Seinfeld,” the show returned to the air on May 30, 1990, with an episode that introduced the character of ex-girlfriend Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). With a slow but growing following, the show reached Number 1 in the Nielsen ratings in its sixth season. More than 76 million viewed the finale on May 14, 1998–58 percent of all viewers that night–making it the fourth-most-watched series finale in U.S. television history.

The Library of Congress holds videotapes of all of the “Seinfeld” episodes, which were registered for copyright by Castle Rock Entertainment. Registrations were accompanied by deposit copies that became part of the Library’s Motion Picture and Television collections, along with “descriptive materials,” which range from a synopsis to a complete script.

(The above article is featured in the May/June 2015 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. You can read the issue in its entirety here.)

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