By now you’ve surely seen tributes to 25th anniversary of Seinfeld’s pilot episode popping up in your feeds. Hopefully, you took the opportunity to enjoy a bowl of cereal and read Burnsy’s excellent dissection of the pilot episode.
For all the flaws and forgettable characters — sorry, Claire — of the first episode, the series could have turned out much differently had Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David kept their original format of the show being a sitcom that revolved around stand-up clips. I had seen The Seinfeld Chronicles a few times on TV, but to really dig up the history on how it came to be, I watched it again on DVD with the “notes about nothing” feature on. So, in celebration of NBC’s greatest “Must See TV,” here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about Seinfeld’s first episode.
1. The original episode had very different — and very bad — intro music. One of the smaller things I love about Seinfeld, is that it avoided the typical sitcom music with cheesy lyrics, favoring a weird jazzy bass intro that lasted only a few seconds. The pilot episode had much different theme music, trading the funky bass for something that sounded like a leftover drum machine track from a Paula Abdul record. It was used only once when the pilot first aired, but is available as an extra on the DVDs.
2. Julia Louis Dreyfus wasn’t even aware of the episode. In the short Making-of documentary on the Seinfeld: Season 1 DVD, Julia Louis-Dreyfus comments that not only was she unaware of the episode until 2004, but she’s never seen it and doesn’t plan to either.
3. Kramer owned a dog simply to justify one of Jerry’s stand-up bits. In the original pilot, Kramer owned a dog named Ralph. The only reason that the dog was written in was because Jerry and Larry wanted it to correlate with a bit from Jerry’s stand-up act. After the dog pounces on George it is never seen or mentioned in the series again.
4. Different shots were used for Jerry’s apartment. Much of the apartment in the first episode is the same as the rest of the series, except for the gigantic window by his computer. The exterior shot of his apartment building is also different from the exterior shot in the rest of the series.
5. Before George there was Bennett. George’s character was always going to be a short, stocky, bald man, but the “slow-witted” part didn’t come about until after the first draft. In the first drafts of the script, George’s character was another stand-up comic by the name of Bennett. The script included dialogue with Jerry and Bennett discussing their stand-up acts, but of course was scrapped, with Bennett the comic becoming George the real estate agent.
6. Jerry and George have the same conversation twice. The first conversation Jerry and George have at the coffee shop is about a shirt button. This also happens to be the last conversation they have with George commenting on a button while in his cell. Jerry acknowledges the callback, saying how it feels like they’ve had the conversation before.
7. Kramer went from Hoffman to Kessler then back to Kramer. In the first draft of the script, Kramer’s name was changed to Hoffman. NBC felt that using Kramer could cause some legal issues since the character was based on Larry David’s real-life next door neighbor, Kenny Kramer. Hoffman was changed to Kessler before filming, but only spoken once by Jerry while watching the Mets game. By episode two, Kessler was swapped for Kramer and Kenny Kramer was free to start planning his reality tour.
8. The show had four different titles. The pilot episode might have run under the title The Seinfeld Chronicles, but that wasn’t even the first title for the show. The script that was delivered to NBC was titled Stand Up — to go along with the heavy amount of stand-up footage that would be in each episode. Before the script landed in the hands of NBC, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David were just calling it the generic sounding The Jerry Seinfeld Show.
9. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ husband auditioned for the part of George. Jason Alexander auditioned twice for the part of George — the first time in New York and a second time in Los Angeles. Before he landed the part, he was up against actors Nathan Lane, David Alan Grier, Steve Buscemi, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ husband, Brad Hall.
10. The rerun of the episode helped secure the show’s second season. NBC executives were on the fence about the show, fearing that it was just “too New York and too Jewish.” NBC’s head of late night programming, Rick Ludwin was able to convince the network to produce four more episodes. None of them did especially well, but when NBC reran the pilot in 1990 it received a Nielsen rating of 13.9, better than its original score of 10.9. This helped convince the Network to produce another season.