When HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” launched as a series in October 2000 (following a 1999 special), Bill Clinton was still president; “streaming” wasn’t a way to watch TV, and it had only been two years since “Seinfeld,” the show Larry David co-created, ended its run.
“Curb” persists, and 20 years later, remains a top Emmy contender after having been nominated in the comedy series category eight times — every year it’s been eligible except its first. David, meanwhile, has been nominated for lead comedy actor six times. Overall, the show has 43 noms under its belt — but just two wins. Nonetheless, while most long-running shows eventually see their award tallies peter out, “Curb” is still holding on.
“Why is the show still relevant? I can actually distill this whole article down into three words: Larry Motherf—ing David,” says executive producer Jeff Schaffer, who worked on “Seinfeld” and has been on “Curb” since 2005. “He’s still coming up with stories that resonate with people, he’s still coming up with stories where people say either, ‘Hey that happened to me’ or, ‘I always wanted to tell someone off who did [that].’”
Part of the formula is the fact that “Curb” only pops up periodically — which means it never outwears its welcome. By the late 2000s, the show got into an every-other-year groove. And then it took a big break from 2011 until 2017, before returning again this past January. That has amounted to 10 seasons in 20 years.
“We’re the kid that took like eight years to graduate from college,” Schaffer quips. “I’m not sure if it’s longevity or simply just like intermittent laziness. But it’s never been a show that Larry made because he had to make it. It’s always been a show that appears when it appears because he wants to make it.”
The “Curb” format has been often imitated over the years — everything from Matt LeBlanc on “Episodes” to even the recent “BH90210” — capitalizing on awkward humor and the novelty of watching celebrities playing slightly more obnoxious, off-putting versions of themselves.
But part of the success of “Curb” has also been the show’s unique improv style, which starts with a story outline and then relies on the cast and guest stars to bring those stories to life. It takes a skilled repertory company to do that, and “Curb” has it: Jeff Garlin, Cheryl Hines, Susie Essman, J.B. Smoove and recurring appearances by others, including Ted Danson and Richard Lewis.
“We spend a lot of time on those outlines and doing that comedy geometry, getting those stories to interweave,” Schaffer says. “And then we let funny people say it in their own way and every scene’s a live rewrite. But TV Larry is wish fulfillment for real Larry. That’s how the show gets written. Larry comes into the office and he says, ‘I was at this dinner party and the host served tap water. Who serves tap water at a dinner party? I should have said something.’ And I say, ‘Well, real Larry didn’t want to say anything, but TV Larry is sure going to.’”
David famously has a greenlight at HBO to do a new season whenever he’s ready. “Every season is the final season,” Schaffer says. “When the last episode occurs, there will never be another episode of ‘Curb.’ It just takes time for him to go out in the world. And for us to interact with people and realize that, documenting the shortcomings of the westside of Los Angeles is actually an evergreen business. There’s a font of stories that’s never going to run dry. But it takes time to recharge.”