Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Seinfeld Curse?

With the debut of Julia Louis-Dreyfus's new sitcom, The New Adventures of Old Christine, there has been renewed talk of the "Seinfeld Curse." Supposedly, the Seinfeld Curse is a curse whereby none of the alumni of that sitcom can have another successful show. And, on the surface, it might well appear that they are cursed. Louis-Dreyfus has aleady had one attempt at another show--Watching Ellie, which lasted less than one season on NBC. Like Dreyfus, Jason Alexander has tried two shows since Seinfeld ended--Bob Patterson, which lasted but a few weeks during the 2001-2002 season, and the recently cancelled Listen Up , which at least managed to last a season and a half. Michael Richards' Michael Richards Show also lasted only a few weeks. Given the short lives of these shows, it is perhaps easy for many to conclude that the veterans of Seinfeld are under a curse. That having been said, I don't think this is the case.

Let's face it, there are only a few actors who have starred in more than one successful sitcom. Off the top of my head I can only think of a few. Following I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball saw success with both The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy. Bob Denver had already starred in the hit The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis before being immortalised as Gilligan. Michael J. Fox had success with both Family Ties and Spin City, while Howard Hesseman went from WKRP in Cincinnati to Head of the Class. Of course, Bob Newhart had success with The Bob Newhart Show and Newhart, although subsequent series failed. There are no doubt more actors who have had more than one successful sitcom (Ted Danson and Kelsey Grammer also comes to mind), but my point is that actors who have had only one successful sitcom far outnumber those who have had more than one.

Indeed, for a prime example of an actor who starred in a successful sitcom but never repeated that success, one need look no further than Maclean Steveson. Stevenson left M*A*S*H only a few seasons after it had become a hit series. Afterwards he never again played in a hit series, despite repeated attempts. The Maclean Stevenson Show, In the Beginning, Hello Larry, Condo, and the TV version of Dirty Dancing all failed, and miserably at that. Stevenson may be unique for having as many series failed as he did, but he is not alone in not being able to repeat his previous success. Don Adams played Maxwell Smart in the classic Get Smart. The show was critically acclaimed and even received Emmy awards. But Adams never repeated that show's success. His syndicated sitcom Check It Out ran three years, but it was never a ratings winner. A sequel to Get Smart, Get Smart Again, survived only a few weeks on Fox. If it wasn't for the animated Inspector Gadget, Get Smart would have been his last hit. Andy Griffith starred in one of the most successful shows of all time, The Andy Griffith Show, but did not have another hit series until Matlock, a mystery series rather than a sitcom.

In fact, one need look no further than the classic show Cheers for examples of how hard it is to have another hit. George Wendt failed with no less than three shows following Cheers. The George Wendt Show, The Naked Truth, and Modern Men all bombed. Shelly Long, who left the series at the height of its success, had no success with Kelly Kelly. Rhea Perlman struck out with both Pearl and Kate Brasher. Of the cast of Cheers, only Ted Danson and Kelsey Grammer were able to repeat their television success. And it took Ted Danson more than one try. His series Ink failed before he found some degree of success with Becker. Of course, Kelsey Grammer went onto success with Fraiser, one of the few spinoffs that was as successful as the original series.

The truth is that it is simply very hard to find success for a sitcom, or any other type of TV series, for that matter. Out of the many TV shows that debut each fall, only a few will survive to last a season. And out of those series lucky enough to last a season, only a few will survive more than one. In fact, I have read estimates that as many as 80% of all shows debuting in any given season will flop. Looking at these odds, an actors who have even one hit show under their belt should count themselves lucky! Quite simply television is a very competitive business in which the majority of shows simply will not last. Shows such as I Love Lucy, Bewitched, and Cheers, which last for several seasons and then go on to be rerun ad infinitum are very, very rare. Given this fact, it is perhaps no surprise that none of the veterans of Seinfeld have met with success since that show left the air. It is simply the odds of having a hit show, not some curse, which has left them without a single hit series following the success of Seinfeld.

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