Television: It's All About Timing

That's why, nine seasons into one of TV's great runs, Jerry Seinfeld called it quits

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Visiting Jerry Seinfeld's home in the Hollywood Hills, one finds that the benefits of being a top television performer are readily apparent: even the three Porsches in his smartly tiled garage--two vintage, one a 1997 Turbo S--have a view of all Los Angeles. This is thanks to a picture window cut into the garage's wall. Yes, it's nice to be a TV star's car, just as it's nice to be a TV star (Seinfeld owns an additional 60 or so cars, not all of them Porsches, which he warehouses in an airport hangar in Santa Monica). And now that even Mikhail Gorbachev has begun doing commercials for Pizza Hut, it seems pointless to argue with the medium that so dominates our lives and culture. Most of us threw in the towel long ago. But not Jerry Seinfeld. While the rest of America has been off getting college credit for studying Silver Spoons, the star, one of the executive producers of the situation comedy that bears his last name, is unafraid to bite the hand that feeds him.

"It's a habitual medium," he says matter-of-factly during the course of a long afternoon and evening's interview. "Most people aren't really entertained. What they need is they need to watch TV. Entertainment is almost a luxury item." As the day wears on, Seinfeld returns to the subject, this time even more adamantly: "Television is like a flyer somebody sticks on your windshield. Who gives a damn what's on it? It's iridescent wallpaper. Sometimes I think people just like the light on their faces."

That last comment comes in the context of Seinfeld's irritation with critics who have complained that the show is "off" this season; the fact that critics care enough to carp about a mere TV show, he feels, is both ridiculous and a tribute to the level of quality Seinfeld, the show, has maintained over its nine seasons. Consequently, Seinfeld, the person, has been even more perplexed and flattered by the outpouring of national grief that came with the Christmas announcement that his show would be pulling its plug even though it is currently the nation's top-rated sitcom, even though it is as popular and lucrative as ever, even though the audience has not yet tired of the self-absorbed lives of Jerry, Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), George (Jason Alexander) and Kramer (Michael Richards). This, of course, is not the way successful television shows are supposed to end.

Everyone knows they usually wind up sliding into irrelevancy and dwindling ratings amid desperate plot contrivances, like marriages and multiple births, and, in some sad cases, an irritating self-importance that increases in opposite proportion to the shows' declining popularity (bye, Roseanne). But here was someone who could have been paid regally for just phoning it in for another year or two willing instead to throw that all away--astounding in the same world that won't stop giving us Family Matters.

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