Jerry Seinfeld’s coming back to television — or is he?
ABC has greenlit a pilot for a half-hour alternative laffer based on “Letters From a Nut,” the bestselling series of comedy books penned by the enigmatic Ted L. Nancy, with introductions by Seinfeld. Barry Marder and Rob Lee are developing and exec producing the project.
There’s been much published speculation that Seinfeld and Nancy are actually the same person — a prolific letter writer who “sends seemingly serious, yet totally absurd requests to corporate honchos, entertainment conglomerates — and celebrities,” according to ABC. The kicker: Recipients of the letters usually offer serious responses to Nancy.
Seinfeld has left unresolved the question of whether Nancy is his alter ego.
Adding to the mystery: Seinfeld was present during a series of meetings earlier this spring in which the project was pitched to ABC and other networks, leading to a multinetwork bidding competish for the rights.
Marder, Lee and ABC said it would be inaccurate to describe Seinfeld as anything other than an enthusiastic fan of the pilot.
“He’s very supportive of the project, and he was at the networks when we went there,” Lee said. “But right now, we don’t have any idea of how or if he’ll be involved.”
In the intro to “Letters,” Seinfeld says his relationship to Nancy is similar to that of “a Clark Kent figure.”
“I may not have been Superman himself, but it became known that I was able to contact him,” he wrote.
Nancy’s appearance and identity will remain a secret even if the show goes to series: Producers plan to use only his voice for the opening of each episode.
Instead, the TV version of “Letters From a Nut” will utilize friends and relatives of Nancy to undertake “adventures that are absurd and silly” and somehow related to the letters in the book, Lee said.
In one letter, for example, Nancy writes to the Baseball Hall of Fame and asks if they’d be interested in the toenail clippings of a famous player. A Hall of Fame representative actually wrote back to say they would indeed be interested.
TV version of “Nut” would feature one of Nancy’s “friends” on the road to deliver the toenails.
“He’ll get the nails in-shape by taking them to a beauty salon or get an insurance policy on them,” Marder said. “We will follow the journey of an idiot’s friend.”
Other classic Nancy missives include asking a casino for the right to gamble dressed as a shrimp, his dog play “Cinnamon: A Life in Progress”; and a request to have a big toe grafted on someone’s face in place of a nose.
“It’s kind of like a wonderful, demented ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ” Lee said.
ABC alternative guru Andrea Wong said “Letters” will be unlike anything else currently on TV.
“It’s a totally fresh, new kind of comedy and I think the pilot will bear that out,” she said.
Wong said she has met Nancy, but she offered only a vague description of him.
“He’s quite an interesting man,” she said.
Marder said Nancy isn’t trying to be mean-spirited or obnoxious in his requests, and the show will reflect that.
“Ted is a very sincere man,” Marder said.
Marder is an old friend of Seinfeld’s who helped introduce the thesp to Nancy. Lee, a manager-producer whose clients include Britney Spears, approached Marder a few years ago about potentially translating “Letters” to the small screen.
Duo hope to get the pilot in production by summer’s end in time for midseason consideration by ABC.
Deal was brokered by Neil Meyer.
Nancy was unavailable for comment. Seinfeld couldn’t be reached, either.