Skip

'Nothing' was one thing, but guns? Nopenopenope
July 11, 2014 12:27 PM   Subscribe

Remember that early episode of Seinfeld where Elaine buys a gun, her father makes his second appearance, and we finally find out that Kramer's first name is Conrad? Well, neither does anyone else who wasn't working on the show during its second season, specifically in December of 1990, when the table read for "The Bet" was held.

The title refers to a wager on whether Elaine would purchase a black-market handgun. The episode was never filmed after Julia Louis-Dreyfus objected to "an exchange in which she jokes about shooting herself in the head, then references 'the Kennedy,' mimicking the bullet entry point of the assassinated president." She rallied the rest of the cast and told episode director Tom Cherones that they didn't want to do it. Cherones, who had been a gunnery officer in the U.S. Navy, agreed that guns weren't funny, so Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld quickly wrote up "The Phone Message" (based on an unaired skit David had written for Saturday Night Live). That episode did so poorly in the ratings that NBC immediately put the show on hiatus.

("Poorly" is relative -- the 13 million viewers who saw "The Phone Message" would make it a Top Ten show these days, higher than any scripted series on ABC or Fox.)

The subplot featured a second wager, this one between George and Jerry as to whether Conrad Kramer (whose first name would instead be revealed as Cosmo some four seasons later) had joined the mile-high club with a stewardess.
posted by Etrigan (21 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was about to go all Cosmo on you, but then I read to the end, and I'm no longer hyperventilating.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:34 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


The most surprising thing to me is your parenthetical. From 2013: As TV Ratings and Profits Fall, Networks Face a Cliffhanger
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:39 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


> "Poorly" is relative -- the 13 million viewers who saw "The Phone Message" would make it a Top Ten show these days, higher than any scripted series on ABC or Fox.

This interests me. Is it really the case that we've passed the high-water-mark for TV drama, in terms of overall viewership of a single show?

I can't find a source online that compares different shows' raw viewership numbers over time. It would be pretty interesting, though. It'd also be interesting to compare budgets: does the average show today have to spend more, in today's dollars, per viewer than a show 20 or 30 years ago? My guess is that they do (based, admittedly, mostly on my opinions of the absolute dreck that people seem to have watched in large numbers when there were only the major networks on TV), and that this is a Good Thing if you like quality programming.

The Wikipedia page of the most-watched TV broadcasts of all time is interesting, although it doesn't shed much light on that particular question. It does look, on casual inspection, like the finale episode of M*A*S*H is probably something that will never be repeated in terms of viewership, with fewer and fewer highly-watched finales as you move forward in time from there (Everybody Loves Raymond, Frasier, and Friends are the only post-2000 finales to make the list, and all of those are basically 90s shows that dragged themselves across the Y2K mark before expiring).

However, the 2014 Super Bowl broke total viewership records overall, suggesting that it's not as though people just aren't watching TV.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:53 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


A really good judgement call on part of the cast and director. Interesting story, thanks.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 12:53 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


Julia Louis-Dreyfus objected to "an exchange in which she jokes about shooting herself in the head, then references 'the Kennedy,' mimicking the bullet entry point of the assassinated president."

I think she made the right call. That seems a bit crass, even for a Seinfeld episode.

But it's funny—I could imagine that exact joke being voiced by her character on Veep, and nobody would bat an eyelid.
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:57 PM on July 11 [9 favorites]


This interests me. Is it really the case that we've passed the high-water-mark for TV drama, in terms of overall viewership of a single show?... It'd also be interesting to compare budgets: does the average show today have to spend more, in today's dollars, per viewer than a show 20 or 30 years ago?

With the possible exception of the Super Bowl and similar huge events, probably.

You might be interested in this recent Slideshare deck on the future of TV. In particular, slide 34 shows how hit shows don't carry 1/5th the viewers hit shows used to attract.

You're right on about the money too. See slide 63 (which focuses on the problem from the side of the advertisers). Reaching the same audience costs increasingly more as viewers watch a larger variety of programs from a larger variety of service on a larger variety of devices.
posted by zachlipton at 1:00 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


Is it really the case that we've passed the high-water-mark for TV drama, in terms of overall viewership of a single show?

Yes. Cable already had that effect decades ago, and the internet hasn't helped matters. Occasionally a network sitcom finale will bubble up, but even that phenomenon hasn't happened in nine years.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:02 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


And yet, there was that JFK parody a few seasons later. I guess that was okay because the show was poking fun at the movie, not the assassination itself?
posted by Cash4Lead at 1:04 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


And yet, there was that JFK parody a few seasons later. I guess that was okay because the show was poking fun at the movie, not the assassination itself?

Yep. It was a Wayne Knight meta-joke, mostly.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:06 PM on July 11 [5 favorites]


I guess that was okay because the show was poking fun at the movie, not the assassination itself?

I would imagine so. And there's a world of difference between a joke that involves describing the trajectory of a gob of saliva vs. one that involves pointing a gun at one's head and stomach.
posted by Shmuel510 at 1:09 PM on July 11 [4 favorites]


Until recently I worked for a US public television series. It regularly pulls in a .8 in the ratings, a 1.1 brings on fist-pumping and cheers. Twenty years ago, the show regularly got in the threes, or even a four for something timely or salacious.

It sounds like a terrible slide, and it would be except when seen in relation to the declines from the other networks. Delivering set content at a set time and expecting people to watch it when you tell them to is antiquated-- it labors under technological restrictions that no longer exist, and consequently it no longer fits people's schedules and expectations.

Nielsen Ratings is a joke in your town!
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:24 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


You know, Kramer looks more like a Conrad than a Cosmo.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:40 PM on July 11 [4 favorites]


One season and a movie?
posted by blue_beetle at 1:50 PM on July 11


But it's funny—I could imagine that exact joke being voiced by her character on Veep, and nobody would bat an eyelid.

This seems to me like both a function of time and of different characters being able to sell different jokes. If Selena Meyer told a joke about the Kennedy assasination, it would be a form of gallows humor (Meyer is a plausible assassination target) but also the kind of self-aggrandizement that is right in her wheelhouse. There would also be a possibility for the writers to walk it back a bit by having her confronted by an actual Kennedy.
posted by muddgirl at 2:01 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


“I was a gunnery officer in the United States Navy. Guns aren’t funny.”

Perhaps, though as noted any humor, even gun humor, is context-dependent. "I call it Vera" worked fairly well for its context.
posted by audi alteram partem at 2:07 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


Cherones, who had been a gunnery officer in the U.S. Navy, agreed that guns weren't funny

But neo-Nazis pulling guns on Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer was funny.
posted by John Cohen at 5:34 PM on July 11


You know, Kramer looks more like a Conrad than a Cosmo.

That's why Cosmo is funnier.
posted by John Cohen at 5:54 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Well, and while Elaine was kind of a terrible person, Selena Meyer is basically a monster.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:55 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Nielsen Ratings is a joke in your town!

Especially considering just how many goddamn diary markets are still out there vs. metered. "Oh shit I forgot about this diary, I should fill that out... what did I watch this week?" *shrug* "Eh best guess is good enough."
posted by jason_steakums at 8:45 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


But neo-Nazis pulling guns on Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer was funny.

There's a world of difference between a plot featuring some gun usage and a plot centered on jokes about gun ownership. But also, I think that as the show progressed, it became more obvious that these were terrible people and they became capable of making edgier kinds of jokes and gags.

I'm not sure we need to read too much into this, either. Lots of story ideas will be presented in the course of a multi-year TV series and some of them won't get made. It may be a little unusual, especially this early in a show's run, for the cast to essentially rebel wholesale, and certainly at this point with many more anti-heroes and unattractive protagonists (Tony Soprano, Walter White, etc.), the concept doesn't seem nearly as alarming as it may have for a mainstream network prime time show 24 years ago.

Is it really the case that we've passed the high-water-mark for TV drama, in terms of overall viewership of a single show? I can't find a source online that compares different shows' raw viewership numbers over time.

Oh, absolutely. It began with cable, of course, back in the 90s, but continued with the advent of the DVR and has reached the point where cord-cutters have put once-indomitable networks like NBC on death watch -- but only as the canary in the coal mine to the entire broadcast TV model. I haven't had broadcast television myself for over a decade.
posted by dhartung at 10:13 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


I hate to say it, but the aside has captured my attention more than anything else. I knew this phenomenon existed but I didn't know it was so drastic.

I'm not mourning the end of one-size-fits-all entertainment but I am interested in the loss of pop culture touchstones.
posted by Monochrome at 11:52 AM on July 12


« Older There is no such thing as concrete, binary...   |   Oops, you got your music in my katamari! Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post