The Seinfeld Chronicles
|"The Seinfeld Chronicles"|
George and Jerry in Pete's Luncheonette.
|Episode no.||Season 1
|Directed by||Art Wolff|
|Written by||Larry David
|Original air date||July 5, 1989|
|Season 1 episodes|
|List of Seinfeld episodes|
"The Seinfeld Chronicles" (also known as "Good News, Bad News" for syndication or even "Pilot") is the pilot episode of the NBC sitcom Seinfeld. The pilot, the first of the 180 Seinfeld episodes, was written by show creators Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld (the latter starring as a fictionalized version of himself), and was directed by Art Wolff. During the episode, Jerry frets over the romantic intentions of a woman who requests to stay with him while she's in town on business. It originally aired on July 5, 1989, and was re-broadcast June 28, 1990, after the show had been picked up as a series.
When first broadcast, the pilot was watched by nearly 11% of American households. These ratings were high enough to secure the show's first season, which consisted of five episodes, including the pilot. Seinfeld later went on to become one of the most successful sitcoms in television history.
The pilot episode features several differences from the rest of the series. The character of series regular Kramer (played by Michael Richards) is named "Kessler" (which is eventually retconned in the season 9 episode "The Betrayal"), and he also has a dog that does not appear during the rest of the series. Another regular character, Elaine Benes, does not appear in the episode. The main characters, Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza (Jason Alexander), eat at "Pete's Luncheonette" (a set that had its exterior left over from The Muppets Take Manhattan), as opposed to Monk's Café. Differences between how the characters behave in the pilot and the rest of the series have also been noted, as well as the different theme song.
The character of Claire the waitress (Lee Garlington) was originally planned as a regular but was dropped and replaced with Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). On the September 2, 2011 episode of Kevin Pollak's Chat Show, guest Jason Alexander stated that Garlington made certain unwelcome suggestions to show co-creator Larry David and that her role was dropped because of these suggestions. The pilot guest stars Pamela Brull as Laura.
The series opens with Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza seated at Pete's Luncheonette, debating the placement of one of George's shirt buttons. The waitress, Claire, pours each of them a cup of coffee. George frets about whether Claire is giving him regular or decaffeinated coffee, saying he does not want caffeine in it. Claire later, to annoy him, implies that she gave him regular. Jerry then tells George about a woman he met in Lansing, Michigan, Laura, who is coming to New York. Jerry wonders if she has romantic intentions. The two continue to talk about her after they leave the luncheonette and go to the laundry.
The next evening, Jerry tells his neighbor Kessler (as the character is known at the time) that he thinks he misunderstood the situation with Laura. Jerry then receives a telephone call from Laura, who asks if she can stay overnight at his apartment. Jerry invites her, but is still unsure whether or not her visit is intended to be romantic. George and Jerry continue to debate the issue, with Jerry determined to find the true nature of her visit.
At the airport, George and Jerry continue to try to identify the possible signals Laura might give upon her arrival, with George explaining the meaning of various greetings. However, when Laura arrives, her greeting is ambiguous. Jerry and Laura arrive at the apartment. Laura then removes her shoes and some excess clothing to get comfortable, and while in her stocking feet asks for wine, turns down the light and asks if she can stay over a second night. As Jerry removes his own shoes and begins to grow confident, the phone rings for Laura. When Laura gets off the phone she tells Jerry: "Never get engaged." Jerry then realizes that he has no chance with Laura, but has already committed himself – and his one-bedroom apartment – to an entire weekend with her, including a five-hour sightseeing boat ride around Manhattan.
The Seinfeld Chronicles was the 23-minute pilot for the show that would eventually be called simply Seinfeld. Created by standup comedian Jerry Seinfeld and writer Larry David, developed by NBC executive Rick Ludwin, and produced by Castle Rock Entertainment, it was a mix of Seinfeld's stand-up comedy routines and idiosyncratic, conversational scenes focusing on mundane aspects of everyday life such as laundry, the buttoning of the top button on one's shirt and the attempt by men to properly interpret the intent of women spending the night in Seinfeld's apartment. Seinfeld said that the idea of the episode was to show there are "gaps in society where there are no rules." The pilot was filmed at Stage 8 of Desilu Cahuenga studios, the same studio where The Dick Van Dyke Show was filmed (this was seen by the crew as a good omen), and was recorded at Ren-Mar Studios in Hollywood. The stand-up element of the pilot was seen as a distinctive feature; however, some of this material was not included in the broadcast version. In the pilot, Kramer has a dog called Ralph, included so that a stand-up routine Seinfeld had written about dogs could be used. However, this routine was cut, and as a result Ralph was never explained, and did not appear in any other episodes.
Originally, the pilot was to feature George, as well as Jerry, as a comedian. Early versions of the script featured George, named "Bennett", discussing his stand-up performance. However, this idea was abandoned, and George became a real estate broker. Claire the waitress was originally called "Meg". The character of Kramer did not appear in the first draft of the script. In later scripts, he appears as "Kramer". However, since Kramer was named after a real person (Kenny Kramer), he was called "Hoffman", and later "Kessler", because of worries about the rights to use the name. The original title of the pilot was Stand Up. This later was changed to The Jerry Seinfeld Show, and then Good News, Bad News. However, the production staff and writers refer to the pilot as The Seinfeld Chronicles, to avoid confusion with a later Seinfeld episode called "The Pilot". Other titles considered included Signals and The Airport Pick-Up. The pilot features different title music, written by Jep Epstein, which was never used again. Jonathan Wolff takes over as the main person who provided the trademark slap bass music. Some of the people in the studio audience were paid extras, but all the laughter heard is genuine.
A deleted scene from the episode features Jerry and George driving to the airport, where they talk about changing lanes on the road and giving "Thank you waves". This was reused in later episodes "The Good Samaritan" and "The Puerto Rican Day". Some parts of the stand-up material featured in the pilot were filmed for an episode in the second season, "The Ex-Girlfriend", but were cut from the episode.
The pilot was first screened a group of two dozen NBC executives in Burbank, California in early 1989. Although the pilot did not yield the explosion of laughter garnered by the pilots for the decades previous NBC successes like The Cosby Show and The Golden Girls, it drew a positive response from the assembled executives, such as Warren Littlefield, then the second-in-command for NBC's entertainment division, who relates, "There was a sense this was something different. The room embraced the humor and the attitude." Littlefield's boss, Brandon Tartikoff, by contrast, was not convinced that the show would work. A Jewish man from New York himself, Tartikoff characterized it as "Too New York, too Jewish". Test audience were even more harsh. NBC's practice at the time was to recruit 400 households by phone to ask them to evaluate pilots it aired on an unused channel on its cable system. An NBC research department memo summarized the pilot's performance among the respondents as "Weak", which Littlefield called "a dagger to the heart". Comments included, "You can't get too excited about two guys going to the laundromat"; "Jerry's loser friend George is not a forceful character"; "Jerry needs a stronger supporting cast"; and "Why are they interrupting the stand-up for these stupid stories?" Other people complained that the show was "too Jewish" and "too New York." When NBC announced its 1989-90 primetime schedule in May 1989, The Seinfeld Chronicles was not included, but Littlefield and other supporters of the show did not give up on it.
The pilot first aired on July 5, 1989, and finished second in its time slot against the CBS police drama Jake and the Fatman, receiving a Nielsen rating of 10.9/19, meaning that the pilot was watched by 10.9% of American households, and that 19% of all televisions in use at the time were tuned into it. The ratings did not exhibit regional skew that Tartikoff predicted, much to the encouragement of the show's supporters. Despite the poor test results, Ludwin cancelled one of the Bob Hope specials budgeted for that season so that the entertainment division had the money to order four more episodes of The Seinfeld Chronicles, which formed the rest of the show's first season. a move without which Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rosenthal later stated there would be no Seinfeld. Although this was a very low order number for a new series (the smallest sitcom order in television history), Castle Rock failed to find any other buyers when it shopped the show to other networks, and accepted the order. The show was renamed Seinfeld, but it would not return to the airwaves until May 30, 1990, and it would be another three years before it became a Top 5 ratings success. Preston Beckman, who was in charge of NBC's research department at the time, reminisces, "The show as different. Nobody had seen anything like it. It wasn't unusual for poor-testing shows to get on the air, but it was very rare that they became hits." Seinfeld and David did not see the memo for several years, but after they became aware of it, they hung it in a bathroom on the set. Seinfeld comments, "We thought, if someone goes in to use this bathroom, this is something they should see. It fits that moment."
When it was first repeated on June 28, 1990, it received a rating of 13.9/26. These ratings were high enough to secure a second season. NBC research showed that the show was popular with young male adults, a demographic sought after by advertisers. This gave NBC an incentive to keep broadcasting the show. One DVD reviewer, Britt Gillette, wrote that "this initial episode exhibits the flashes of brilliance that made Seinfeld a cultural phenomenon."
Colin Jacobson of DVD Movie Guide, stated in his review, "As one watches the pilot, it's hard to believe Seinfeld ever became so great. Okay – that's not wholly true, as one can see the sparks of the series' later inventiveness. However, the pilot is almost totally free from humor, as little about it seems amusing. It's got potential but little else." Benjamin Willcock from DVD Active wrote: "The pilot episode entitled 'The Seinfeld Chronicles' was actually not exclusive to the show, it does not, for example have most of the acting talent as seen later on in the show, and some of the references might not make sense at first. It's still a good way to get things rolling, but for the real meat you'll want to check out the remainder of the first season, as vastly abbreviated as it is." In 2010, David Sims of The A.V. Club gave the episode a B. In the review, he stated "Mostly, I wondered what the reaction must have been when this thing aired in July 1989. It’s really kinda odd. The main set-piece is nebbishy guys debating the sexual relevance of handshakes from girls. It’s sort of incredible that this got 10.9 Nielsen rating (and that that was barely enough reason for NBC to order a minuscule four-episode first season)."
References in later episodes
The pilot was a reference point for various incidents and storylines in later episodes of Seinfeld.
- The opening scene in which Jerry and George talk about the placement of a shirt button is repeated almost word for word in the second to last scene of "The Finale", the final episode of Seinfeld (with George remarking about having that conversation before).
- The process of making the pilot became the inspiration for the main story arc of season 4, in which Jerry and George write a sitcom pilot for NBC called Jerry.
- Jerry's calling Kramer "Kessler" is explained in "The Betrayal", the "backwards episode" in season 9. This features a scene from 11 years in the past, in which Jerry moves into his new apartment. Jerry calls Kramer "Kessler" after reading his name on the apartment buzzer, but Kramer quickly corrects him.
- George's philosophy of doing the opposite to his natural instincts reappears in the episode "The Opposite".
- George has an extra crop of hair in the front, which would later become bald for the rest of the show's run. A flashback in “The Slicer” is set in '89, the year this episode was filmed, and shows George with a full crop of hair at the beach.
- In the episode "The Shoes", Jerry admits he is unable to write for women. When Elaine is offended by a woman pointing out her shoes, Jerry is surprised to know that she is offended, and reminds Elaine "this is why you're not in the pilot".
- Seinfeld Seasons 1 & 2: Notes about Nothing - "The Seinfeld Chronicles" (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 2004-11-23.
- "The Seinfeld Chronicles - Pilot". Seinfeld Episode Guide. Sony Pictures. Retrieved 2010-07-18.
- Sims, David (2010-06-03). "'The Seinfeld Chronicles' and 'Male Unbonding'". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2010-07-18.
- "Kevin Pollak's Chat Show".
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- Battaglio, Stephen (June 30, 2014). "'Annoying' 'Disorienting' 'Boring': On Seinfeld's 25th anniversary an exclusive look at the memo that almost killed the show". TV Guide. pp. 18-19.
- Jerry Seinfeld (2004-11-23). Seinfeld Seasons 1 & 2: Inside Looks - "The Seinfeld Chronicles" (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
- Rob Reiner (2004-11-23). Seinfeld Seasons 1 & 2: Inside Looks - "The Seinfeld Chronicles" (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
- Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David (2004-11-23). Seinfeld Seasons 1 & 2: Inside Looks - "The Seinfeld Chronicles" (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
- Boudreaux, Jonathan (2004-11-24). "Seinfeld: Season 1 & 2 DVD Review". tvdvdreviews.com. Retrieved 2008-03-19.
- Littlefield, Warren (2012-05-29). QA: Former NBC honcho offered Jerry Seinfeld over $100 million for one more 'Seinfeld' season. Interview with Gostin, Nicki. Fox411. Retrieved May 30, 2012.
- Duffy, Mike (2004-11-24). "Give thanks for 'The 'Seinfeld' Story'". azcentral.com. Retrieved 2008-03-19.
- Rosenthal, Phil (August 21, 2005). "NBC executive stands apart by taking stands". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved September 26, 2012.
- Rapp, David (2006-05-31). "Seinfeld: The Unlikeliest Success Story". American Heritage. Retrieved 2008-03-19.
- Gillette, Britt (2006-09-20). "Seinfeld (Seasons 1 & 2) DVD Review". Article City. Retrieved 2008-03-19.
- Julia Louis-Dreyfus (2004-11-23). Seinfeld Seasons 1 & 2: Inside Looks - "The Seinfeld Chronicles" (DVD). Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
- Jacobson, Colin (2004-11-18). "Seinfeld: Seasons 1 & 2 (1990-1991)". DVD Movie Guide. Retrieved 2008-03-19.
- Willcock, Benjamin. "Seinfeld: Season 1 & 2 Boxed Set". DVD Active. Retrieved 2008-03-19.