'Seinfeld' Endures as a Classic

On May 14, 1998: There were riots in Indonesia. Cannes was under way. The Dow had made up for some losses. Continental slashed air fares. And later that night, Frank Sinatra died at 82.

But for most of us " at least the 79 million people who watched " one memory endures.

A perfect storm of hype and unmet expectations, the "Seinfeld" finale " that silly trial scene, remember? " remains a watershed moment in popular culture.

Why? Reasonable question.

Other hits have gone in the intervening years, such as "Friends" and "Everybody Loves Raymond." Cultural Solomons such as Entertainment Weekly devoted many issues to them, as well.

Plus over those years, we survived the reality boom, then endured it. The sitcom was declared dead, and the drama reborn. The Internet gathered force, then revolutionized TV (and everything else). YouTube rose while the networks declined. With the lone exception of "The Simpsons," most everything on TV changed (and changed completely), but "Seinfeld's" last day still seems like yesterday.

Here's why: "Seinfeld" was often an indisputably great situation comedy and, as the years wore on, continued to wear well " a welcome fate denied other titans in the quest of rerun eternity (such as, say, "Friends").

Then, there was and is the ubiquity. If you have never actually seen "Seinfeld," then you don't actually own a TV.

Estelle Harris (who played George's mother, Estelle Costanza) said in a recent interview, "It's getting more and more popular because there's a whole new generation that has become interested in the show from the repeats. Younger and younger people are stopping me on the streets, all races, creeds and colors, saying, 'You're just like my mother.' "

"Luck" is another word you hear from veterans of the show, as if the normally malevolent gods of prime time were on a nine-year lunch break over those years, ensuring its survival. "I guess I felt really lucky, but I also felt like part of a family, which happens when you're on a show for so long," says veteran stage and TV actress Liz Sheridan, Jerry Seinfeld's "mother," Helen. "It didn't surprise me that we were so successful because we were so good."

Spike Feresten, host of Fox's "TalkShow," and longtime "Seinfeld" scribe, says of the enduring appeal: "I think it's kind of something Jerry and Larry (David, co-creator) always believed " that making someone laugh is a very powerful experience, and if you can do that consistently, then they will love you because there's not a lot that they're laughing about in their own lives. It could be as simple as that."

But a decade's a decade, and while "Seinfeld" is forever trapped in TV amber, the lives of the principals are not.


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