Pop Culture

‘Seinfeld Story’ tells improbable tale

It’s an NBC dream come true: “Seinfeld” back for the November sweep.

Alas, it’s for only an hour, a DVD promo masquerading as a series retrospective. But it’s far better than nothing -- or perhaps in this case, it is nothing.

Of course, for a show famously about nothing, “Seinfeld” was really something. It forever altered the situation comedy form itself, demonstrating that TV could make something wildly original from the irrelevant/irreverent minutiae of life so long as it had comic actors named Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, Michael Richards and Julia Louis-Dreyfus and a tormented contrarian genius named Larry David pushing the writing and production buttons.

This Thanksgiving night special tells the highly improbable tale of how it all came to be. That “Seinfeld” would go on to huge ratings and television immortality is about as fluky as this game gets.  

“The ’Seinfeld’ Story” coincides with the release of the first three “Seinfeld” seasons at long last onto DVD, a license to print money if ever there was one (replete with some 24 hours of bonus material, including the “How It Began” documentary from which the NBC hour is culled). Any excuse to watch “Seinfeld” is a good one, and this special is a predictably entertaining blend of vintage clips (from such great early episodes as “The Chinese Restaurant” and “The Parking Garage”) and comment (from the four principals, from the ever-neurotic David and from former NBC exec Warren Littlefield as well as current exec Rick Ludwin) along with behind-the-scenes stories and outtakes.

What started out life as a burned-off pilot titled “The Seinfeld Chronicles” in 1990 was given a four-episode commitment by Ludwin, who emerges here as an unlikely hero of sorts. That finally led to a 13-episode order and a fortuitous move to Thursday nights behind “Cheers” and then in place of it. It’s the fight to sell a skeptical executive bureaucracy on the merits of a show that played by no conventional sitcom rules that proves most interesting here. To think that the world was nearly denied Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer is unimaginable in hindsight. They truly were masters of the primetime domain.