The Legend of the ‘Seinfeld Curse’

imagesJust four years after Seinfeld ended, TV Guide named it the best show of all time, holding it in higher esteem than I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, All in the Family, and The Sopranos.

And yet the mythical “Seinfeld Curse” clung to his former costars whenever their names popped up in the media. Alexander, Louis-Dreyfus, and Richards all attempted starring in their own sitcoms, but struck out within their first seasons. Louis-Dreyfus headlined an innovative sitcom called Watching Ellie, which premiered in 2002 and showed the title character, a cabaret singer, in real-time, 22-minute segments of her life. Alexander played a motivational speaker in 2001’s Bob Patterson, which premiered to negative reviews and faded out after five episodes—though it also faced the impossible task of being a comedy that debuted ten days after 9/11. Alexander’s 2004 show, Listen Up!, about a sportswriter fared slightly better with critics and viewers, but still wasn’t enough to stay on the air for longer than a year. In 2000, The Michael Richards Show featured the former Kramer as a private detective and was created by three former Seinfeld writers, Spike Feresten, Gregg Kavet, and Andy Robin. But it lasted only eight episodes on NBC.

David called talk of the “curse” “so completely idiotic. It’s very hard to have a successful sitcom.” And as Alexander said, “It’s not a Seinfeld curse. It’s a success curse. There’s a reluctance on the part of the audience and producers to put you into another role. … The problem with Seinfeld is that measuring up is no easy standard.” The stars seemed to also be, at least in part, victims of changing trends in television. In 2002, bug-eating reality show Fear Factor was a hit, and sexy spy drama Alias was a critical favorite—hardly an environment ripe for masters of the sitcom. Meanwhile, they were appearing constantly, at all hours, in their best-known roles thanks to syndication.

Louis-Dreyfus eventually “broke” the curse with the 2006 premiere of the solid New Adventures of Old Christine, in which she played a neurotic divorced mom. When she won an Emmy for the role in 2007, she said in her acceptance speech, “I’m not somebody who really believes in curses, but curse this, baby!” The series ran until 2010, long enough to reach syndication—the industry benchmark of true success. She hit Emmy gold yet again when she was cast as narcissistic vice president Selina Meyer on HBO’s Veep in 2012, going on to win two more statues for that performance.

She declined opportunities during interviews to whine about the difficulties of having played an iconic character, and instead used her Seinfeld clout to her advantage, securing producing credits on both Old Christine and Veep. She saw it as critical to securing authority over her projects and using her extensive experience to the best of her ability.

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2 comments

  1. I think the idea of calling it a success curse is quite true. For an actor, whose character we have known for a long time, tries on another part, it is tough for an audience to see them as a new character. I think one of the best ways for it to work is to play a very different character or move from Comedy to Drama, or vice versa–I would site Ted Danson as a perfect example of this. His Becker was far removed from loveable Sam Malone, and the drama on CSI keeps the character association at bay.

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