What’s really just an elaborate infomercial for the DVD release takes on a somewhat more exotic flavor upon considering the moribund state of “Must-See TV” comedy that “Seinfeld” once defined. As clip shows go, this one is more self-congratulatory than most, and it gives short shrift to a few key moments in the program’s history. That said, there is something fascinating — certainly for those who don’t know the oft-told tale — about how a comedy that barely made it onto the air eventually became a billion-dollar franchise.
Aping the early “Seinfeld” opening format, the show opens with Jerry Seinfeld doing his standup bit (specials, he notes, are usually “nothing special”), before segueing to clips and interviews — culled from the same strolls down memory lane showcased on the DVD — highlighting how the comic and co-creator Larry David stumbled into creating a show about “making fun of stuff.”
David, in particular, displays his best “Curb Your Enthusiasm”-type neuroses, which included threatening to quit on a regular basis and agonizing every time the network grudgingly agreed to order more episodes.
A few of the clips are particularly worthwhile, such as the youthful Seinfeld’s 1981 appearance on “The Tonight Show” — Johnny Carson flashes him an approving “OK” sign — as well as the inevitable outtakes, which raise the question of how anyone finished a scene with Michael Richards without collapsing into laughter. Who knew, moreover, that Richards lugged an actual air conditioner through the famous parking-garage episode, then split his lip shoving it into the trunk?
Admittedly, the “Seinfeld” cult holds sway here, and the show’s transition from critical darling to honest-to-God hit conveniently skips the fact the series was getting bludgeoned by “Home Improvement” before a panicky NBC finally scheduled it behind “Cheers.”
More than anything, though, the unintended effect of “The ‘Seinfeld’ Story” is a not-so-flattering reminder that the Thursday lineup the series anchored from 1993-98 has been reduced to a pair of comedies, “Joey” and “Will & Grace,” that are taking it on the chin from “Survivor.”
Without being too maudlin, spec also serves as a rumination on the hoary notion of ordering a show simply because a few execs like it. Specials veep Rick Ludwin famously lobbied for “Seinfeld,” and his bosses took a “What the hell” flier on a project former NBC Entertainment prexy Warren Littlefield acknowledges, to his credit, he initially didn’t quite get.
So while NBC could doubtless use a sweeps boost from the spec to sweeten its Thanksgiving, this leap into the not-so-wayback machine ultimately highlights how little the network and sitcoms in general have to be thankful for this year. And yes, in the bigger scheme of things, there is something wrong with that.