One Former 'Seinfeld' Writer Reflects On The Show's Impact, 20 Years After Its Finale
It’s been 20 years since the finale of “Seinfeld.”
Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson talks about some of the show’s most quotable scenes and its impact with comedian Carol Leifer ( @carolleifer), who was a writer on the show’s fifth, sixth and seventh seasons.
“It’s 20 years later, and I don’t think I’ll ever work on a show as legendary as ‘Seinfeld,’ ” says Leifer, who was also lead writer on the Netflix show “A Little Help” and author of “How To Succeed in Business Without Really Crying.” “They come along once in a lifetime, and what I always call it is lightning in a bottle — and that’s very rare.”
On the scene where Jerry steals rye bread from an elderly woman
“When you write on a show like ‘Seinfeld,’ one of the hazards of being a writer on a show like that — or really any show, but more so in the heyday of a hit popular network TV show like ‘Seinfeld’ was, I was always accosted by people who said, ‘I have a great idea for Seinfeld.’ And it was like, ‘Oh boy, here we go.’ And it’s like, you know, ‘Betty keeps her egg salad in the refrigerator at the office …’ ‘Oh my, here we go.’
“But a girlfriend of mine from high school, she said, ‘You know, the funniest thing happened to me. My husband and I had a couple over for dinner, and they brought a bread, and I forgot to put it out. And I realized, at the end of the evening, that they had taken the bread home with them.’ And as my friend was telling me this story, I said to her, ‘Oh, my God. That — I cannot wait to pitch that. That is an amazing “Seinfeld” story.’ And sure enough, I went back to the office — and, when you pitched to Larry [David] and Jerry, it was a tough room. You had to go in, and you had to grab them quick because if you didn’t, it was curtains. And when I pitched it, they both loved the idea … and that became the marble rye.
“But when you played that clip, it brought back such a memory to me, because when Jerry wrestles the marble rye away from the old lady and says, ‘Shut up, you old bag,’ we looked at each other and we said, ‘He is so beloved a character now, Jerry Seinfeld, that he can take a marble rye away from an elderly woman and say, “Shut up, you old bag,” and the audience smiles.’ And, ‘Oh, Jerry. Oh, you silly card, you.’ We knew that that was a special moment in ‘Seinfeld’ history, of beloved-ness.”
On the writers’ room at “Seinfeld”
“If it wasn’t a tight little idea, you could see them drift off. So when I pitched like, ‘George brings a deaf woman with him to a party to lip-read his ex-girlfriend’s lips from across the room to find out why she broke up with him,’ Larry would leap out of his chair and go, ‘That’s a show. We’re doing that. That’s a show.’ And he would get really, really excited about it. And if it was something that had happened to you in real life, I always felt that that gave you a leg up because they didn’t have the option of going, ‘Oh, I couldn’t see that.’ Like another one of my episodes was ‘The Beard.’ And that was culled from real life. Because, at the time — and here’s the 20 years ago-ness of it — I had a gay male friend who worked in banking. And banking, of course, being a very conservative field, he was still closeted. But he asked me to come with him as his date to something with his bank president and his wife. So that sparked the idea of ‘The Beard.’
“But there were so many — like ‘The Soup Nazi,’ which was a great episode, written by a friend of mine, a very funny writer, Spike Feresten. ‘The Soup Nazi’ was based on this soup place that was around the corner from the ‘Late Show with David Letterman,’ where he worked as a writer. So, that’s always been a good lesson to me also as a comedy writer, is to always be in your life but always be outside of it looking in, because those turn out to be some of the best ideas for a comedy show.”
On guest stars in the show
“The guest stars were always important. And, as it turns out, there were so many guest stars that went on to have huge careers. You know, Bryan Cranston was in the ‘anti-dentite’ episode. But it’s hard to believe that in 1995, which is when we shot ‘The Understudy,’ it was a little difficult to get a guest star to commit to being on ‘Seinfeld.’ And we really went after a lot of big actresses who passed on it. But what was amazing about Bette Midler, when we reached out to her, is that the writer that I wrote that episode with, Marjorie Gross, who’s sadly since passed on, she was an old friend of Bette Midler. And when we reached out to Bette Midler, having been friends with Marge and going so far back with her, she was like, ‘Oh, absolutely I’ll do it. And I’m happy to do it.’ So it was that connection that made us land the amazing Bette Midler.”
On her reaction when she heard the show was ending
“I guess like most things, bittersweet. I think with a hit show it’s always very tricky to know when to turn out the lights. And I think Jerry had a very good sense of when it was time.
“And especially with Jerry and Larry creating it, having the writers they did, but also the cast. Each cast member could have done their own show separately. They’re each that talented. And to have them all together and create this ensemble was amazing. So, obviously it was sad when the show ended, but I think 20 years later, as I think we all knew then, it was the right time to go.”
On her thoughts about the finale
“I was a fan of it. I know that it was very divisive or whatever it was, but I liked the tack they took, and I enjoyed it. To me the real legacy of the show is that it’s still so loved. … My son is 12 and is starting to watch it and enjoys it. It just — you know, funny is funny. When I was growing up, I used to watch ‘I Love Lucy.’ And that was a show that was an old timey show back then. But it’s funny. And I’m just so proud to have been part of a show that’s really withstood the test of time, and people still love it and still get turned on to it and still enjoy it.”
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.