jerry seinfeld's agent -- 3/27/17

Today's selection -- from Seinfeldia by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. Jerry Seinfeld's career moved from standup to sitcom due to a wise choice in agents and the persistence of that agent:

"[Jerry] Seinfeld had already made several smart choices in his fledgling career, and among them was to sign with manager George Shapiro.

"Shapiro was inspired to go into show business like his uncle, Dick Van Dyke Show creator Carl Reiner. Shapiro's charm -- kind eyes, a warm smile, and a hint of a New York accent -- made him particularly suited to being a talent manager, endearing himself to both performers and executives. He had spent the early years of his career at the Wil­liam Morris talent agency in New York. There, he'd helped put together TV comedies such as The Steve Allen Show, That Girl, and Gomer Pyle. Now, as a talent manager for young comedian Jerry Seinfeld, he may have been simply doing his job when he told NBC executives that his client belonged on their network. But he was also speaking from de­cades of experience during TV's formative years.

Jerry Seinfeld and George Shapiro

The Tonight Show or Late Night. In 1988, he made his strongest epistolary plea as Seinfeld prepared for his first concert broadcast at Town Hall in New York City. 'Call me a crazy guy,' Shapiro wrote to Tartikoff, 'but I feel that Jerry Seinfeld will soon be doing a series on NBC.' He closed by inviting Tartikoff to attend the Town Hall event. No one from the network came, but Tartikoff invited Seinfeld and Shapiro in for a meeting.

"Seinfeld didn't know his manager had badgered NBC about him. He was still unaware when he and Shapiro headed to NBC's Los An­geles offices on November 2, 1988, to discuss the possibility of a network project with Tartikoff, Littlefield, and the head of late-night programming and specials, Rick Ludwin. Seinfeld hadn't the first idea what he'd do on television -- his main career plan was to be a stand­up comedian for as long as he could. ...

"A few months later, Seinfeld had joined forces with Larry David on the script. ... Once they had come up with what they believed was a solid sitcom proposal, Seinfeld had to return to pitch it to the network executives. ... Several Castle Rock executives sat in as David and Seinfeld out­lined the new sitcom concept to NBC in entertainment president Brandon Tartikoff's office.

"The comedian charmed the room, got some laughs. Tartikoff signed on with a bit of a shrug. It would require a small development deal. He and his executives liked Seinfeld's humor. They, too, thought: Why not? 'George,' Tartikoff said to Shapiro, 'now you don't have to send me any more letters.' ...

"Soon came another test of the budding relationship between Seinfeld and NBC, when a scathing review of Seinfeld's stand-up show in Irvine, California, ran in the Los Angeles Times. In January 1989, Lawrence Christon wrote: 'He's expressive. He's clear. And he's completely empty. ... There isn't a single portion of his act that isn't funny -- amusing might be a better word -- but ten minutes or so into it, you begin wondering what this is all about, when is he going to say something or at least come up with something piquant.'

"As Seinfeld fretted over the review, Shapiro asked a staffer to photocopy a bunch of Seinfeld's positive reviews and deliver them to Littlefield and Ludwin at NBC. In the end, though, it seemed that Seinfeld and Shapiro were far more concerned about Christon than NBC was. They didn't bat an eye. Seinfeld and Shapiro desperately wanted this show to happen -- and NBC didn't care much either way."



Jennifer Keishin Armstrong


Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything


Simon & Schuster


Copyright 2016 by Jennifer Armstrong


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