On This Day: The ‘Seinfeld’ Pilot Aired in 1989

by Sean Griffin

On this day in 1989, legendary sitcom Seinfeld first aired. One fan on Reddit posted to commemorate the show’s 33rd anniversary. The post depicts the main cast and has a caption at the bottom. The caption reads, “Larry David famously instituted a policy of “no hugging, no learning,” meaning that the show must avoid sentimentality and moral lessons, and the characters must never grow or learn from their wrongdoings.”

Seinfeld is widely regarded as a cultural touchstone of the 1990s. It is viewed as one of the most successful and influential sitcoms ever. Only two other shows have ended their runs at the top of the Nielsen ratings: The Andy Griffith Show and I Love Lucy. Among Seinfeld‘s most highly regarded episodes are “The Soup Nazi,” “The Contest,” “The Parking Garage,” and “The Chinese Restaurant.” The series, which ran from 1989-1998, topped the Nielsen ratings in Seasons 6 and 8. Between 1994-1998, it finished in at least the top two spots. Seinfeld received 10 Emmy awards and 3 Golden Globes during its run.

However, most people don’t know that Seinfeld was almost doomed from the start. Jerry Seinfeld was a hot commodity as a comedian in the late ’80s. NBC tasked him with creating a 90-minute TV special. However, the comedian and co-writer Larry David decided to write a TV pilot. They believed their “show about nothing” concept would be better received in the half-hour format. Keep reading to find out how the show almost didn’t get made.

‘Seinfeld’ Barely Made It Past Its Pilot Episode

Seinfeld and David wrote the pilot script. Originally, the pilot and show were called “The Seinfeld Chronicles.” Other names for the first episode are “Good News, Bad News,” and simply “Pilot.” However, when Seinfeld and David brought the show concept to the network, they were hesitant.

The show, inspired by real events and people, seemed risky for NBC. Executive Warren Littlefield later recalled, “They all said, ‘Ah, what the hell, let’s try a pilot on this thing and see what happens.'”

However, test audiences weren’t convinced. They reacted negatively to the show. NBC wanted to can the project, especially since they had the series Ann Jillian in development. The network decided to air the pilot to see how critics reacted. However, they didn’t order a season. Castle Rock Entertainment ended up focusing their attention to Ann Jillian which had received a full season order.

Yet, when the pilot episode of Seinfeld aired, Americans tuned in. “The Seinfeld Chronicles” was viewed by 11% of American households on July 5, 1989. The show was reviewed positively by critics. Most critics voiced disapproval that the network hadn’t ordered a full season.

NBC was convinced the series could work; however, they were still skeptical. The order, a four-episode Season 1, is the smallest season order in television history. However, the rest, as they say, is history. Seinfeld became a critical and commercial powerhouse for a decade and influenced American television forever.

Click here to read about star Patrick Warburton revealing the downside to his role on the show.