Comic to exec produce reality series

Jerry Seinfeld is returning to network series television after an 11-year hiatus as creator and exec producer of an NBC reality series that seeks to mine laughs out of marriage problems.

The comedian and his Columbus 81 Prods. are teaming with longtime “Oprah Winfrey Show” exec producer Ellen Rakieten to create “The Marriage Ref,” a nonfiction series that will feature opinionated celebrities, comedians and sports stars offering commentary and advice to real-life couples enduring “classic marital disputes.”

“This is not a therapy show, it’s a comedy show,” said Seinfeld, who will, guest appearances aside, be involved in his first TV series since “Seinfeld” left the air in 1998. “After nine years of marriage, I have discovered that the comedic potential of this subject is quite rich.”

According to NBC Entertainment co-chair Ben Silverman, no premiere date or timeslot has yet been selected for the series.

“Jerry called us up and told us he had an idea,” Silverman said. “He flew in to sit down with us, and he and Ellen pitched the show. We were laughing the whole time as they went through the concept. As Jerry noted, some of the greatest comedies in history have been about marriage.”

For her part, Rakieten has been involved with “Oprah” since the syndie phenom’s launch 23 years ago. She has served as exec producer of the show since 2003.

“Picture well-known people weighing in on a couple’s relationship issues and deciding who is right and who is wrong right on the spot, like a referee,” she said.

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