If you’re a performer wanting to have success in modern media today you could do a lot worse than study Jerry Seinfeld. His commitment to his craft is legendary and at the age of 61 is still doing mid-week unannounced stand up shows in New York for the sole reason of perfecting a joke.
If you’re a breakfast host or radio talent manager there are also plenty of relevant lessons from the success of “Seinfeld” TV show. Here’s just a few.
Jerry on the creative process
“All creativity should be exploratory. If we knew what we’re doing completely, we’re not in the right place.”
When it comes to nailing new ideas, it’s about backing your instincts.
Jerry: “In the beginning, we were scared, but as we became confident with ourselves and with our audience, we felt like our instincts were good enough for them.”
For Content Directors, sometimes you need to take a leap of faith and back in a show or individual that is unique and breaking the rules.
Warren Littlefield – Former NBC President of Entertainment: “We took a risk, a leap with the creator and the show runner even when our instincts said, ‘This will not work.’ More often than not, taking that kind of chance served to strengthen our relationships in the creative community.”
As is the case for radio, the great shows always work harder than the rest.
Jerry- “My biggest regret is that I didn’t try to enjoy the show because I felt like I’d have time afterward to enjoy it. I was obsessively working and focusing on the show. It wasn’t easy. Larry and I either wrote or rewrote every script. We never shot a draft handed to us by our writers. Good as they were, theirs wasn’t our sensibility exactly.”
All good shows have supporting players who add colour and flavour to the main game
Jerry – “We were also very good at casting. When somebody came in who was good, he did not slip through the net. Since Larry and I were comedians, our tuning forks were pretty good. When John O’Hurley came in, Wayne Knight, Jerry Stiller – we knew it. We’d say “Him”.
High standards are followed by equally high expectations from your fans. Once the genie is out of the bottle, there’s no turning back.
Jerry – “Once the standard got set and the audience was expecting something every week, we couldn’t let up. Then it was ‘Little Shop of Horrors’. You feed it, and it keeps growing. As with all great combinations, the focus is always on the work.”
Jason Alexander [George] – “We think of ourselves as the world’s most successful garage band. We’re just four idiots banging away in the garage and the neighbours are saying, ‘You know, these guys aren’t bad’.”
Exploiting unique combinations and relationships is where the gold comes from.
Jason – “I love Heidi Swedberg (Susan), but I could never figure out how to play off her. Her instincts and my instincts were diametrically opposed. If I thought something had to move, she’d go slow. If I went slow, she’d go fast. If I paused, she’d jump in too early. Loved her. Hated Susan. Larry said to me, “Don’t you understand how perfect she is for you? You’ve driven her to lesbianism. You burned her father’s shack down. You’ve practically shit on her, and nobody feels bad for her. They’re all on your side. She’s the greatest foil for you.”
For our Content Directors, once you’ve found a great show. Sell it as if your life depends on it.
Warren – “We placed our bet on the network’s comedy future with Seinfeld. It was a huge bet, but we used every weapon we had to promote it. In January 1993 we had the Super Bowl on NBC, and we used our on-air promo time to tell America Seinfeld was moving to Thursday night. The cover of TV Guide that week opened up accordion-style with a big picture of Jerry then the rest of the cast. This was it; we had no Plan B. By the time the Cheers finale aired in May 1993, Seinfeld had overtaken Cheers in the ratings. It was astonishing. To surpass Cheers when they were taking their final victory lap? No one predicted it.”
And at the end of the day, it’s all about the laughs. If your breakfast show is the funniest in your market and you’re doing everything you can to exploit this … you win.
Jason – “We were in our third season, which was our first full season, and I was walking in my neighbourhood, and a black family drove by. A little girl rolled down her window and said, “We love you George.” And I thought, “Why?” I guess because the show was funny. It was slavish to funny.”