In 2020 there is an endless selection of cable TV networks, premium movie channels, and internet streaming services that can create content free of the constraints presented by network TV. Unless it is a show created by a writer or filmmaker that has an impressive resume (Alex Garland, Taylor Sheridan) I rarely even watch cable TV series anymore. I find it hard to justify watching an inferior product that is modified to fit within commercial break slots, toned down to appease lucrative advertisers, and manipulated by suits to appeal to the largest viewing demographics when there are series’ on internet streaming services that aren’t beholden to any of those creative anchors.
There are still some great cable shows (mostly on FX and HBO) but it is hard to find a reason to watch network TV. The four networks produce trash sitcoms, cop dramas, and reality TV designed cynically to attract the dying boomer demographic to watch ads. As someone who has been spoiled by the golden age of TV, I believe there are only a few network TV shows that defied all the capitalistic obstacles and created good content, most of which aired before the modern internet. One of those shows is Seinfeld.
I was born in 1990 so I completely missed Seinfeld’s run. I had seen a few syndicated episodes as a child, mostly at my grandparents’ house. I remember my grandfather giggling every time Kramer jolted through Jerry’s apartment door. In college I became a fan of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a show that is often compared to Seinfeld. At the time I thought Sunny took the concept of Seinfeld and improved upon it, eliminating any reason to go back and watch the legendary show that was on network TV watched by “normies.”
A few years ago, while visiting my mother we watched a Seinfeld rerun while lounging around. We watched “The Apology” episode from the 9th season which showed Kramer trying to spend as much time as possible in his shower since he enjoyed the feeling of showers so much. He had a garbage disposal installed into the bath drain which allowed him to cook his meals in the shower without the food clogging up his drain.
“This is so stupid” I said to my mother, not as a criticism but as a massive compliment. I decided then that I needed to eventually watch the whole series.
I have listened to Miami based Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz every day since the summer of 2014. Sports talk on AM radio is, as the host Dan describes it, the lowest rung of the show biz ladder. All 4 hours of the show are available on demand through podcast apps and I devour them daily. The appeal of the Le Batard show is how out of place it is in the ultra-serious ESPN sports radio lineup. Le Batard and his co host Stugotz (Stugotz is Italian for ‘cock’, his real name is Jon Weiner) rarely talk about sports. Ever since The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz went national on ESPN in 2013, they have been sandwiched in-between shows that feature roster depth chart analysis and useless athlete sound bites while they will spend 3 segments debating whether Jim Tomsula farted during a press conference.
Sports are only a reason for the host and the shows producers to get together to laugh and have fun. They don’t take themselves seriously as they spend more time poking fun at themselves than they do the sports they cover, and they try to push the limits of what they can get away with at the extremely corporate ESPN.
The reason I searched out the Le Batard show in the summer of 2014 was to get their reaction to LeBron James leaving the Miami Heat in free agency to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers. I wanted to hear the thoughts of a Miami based radio show as the biggest star in sports was leaving their city.
Instead of listening to them bash LeBron and consuming their despair I was surprised to hear Dan thanking LeBron for the best 4 years of their life. LeBron gave the prime of his career, 4 finals appearances, and 2 championships to the city of Miami. That was a level of nuance I was not expecting, especially in the hot take sports radio world.
Then the show took a different turn with the story. They made fun of a typical hacky sports radio segment discussing the anger with LeBron for not thanking the city of Miami. To take the satire of that cliche radio segment to the extreme, Le Batard put up billboards in Cleveland the week of his return party saying “Your Welcome, LeBron. Love Miami” in comic sans (the font used by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert in his letter ripping LeBron for leaving the team in 2010).
That billboard stunt resulted in a suspension for Le Batard and a lot of hate thrown his way by people who don’t understand sarcasm or his satirist intentions.
In the age of podcasts where free form conversation can be had without having to break every 10-15 minutes for local car dealership commercials, it makes no sense to listen to a terrestrial radio show. Minus the local hour, The Le Batard show is on the air for 3 hours (10am – 1pm) every day. Once the show is put up on demand in podcast form there is barely 90 minutes of content. Almost half of the airtime is dedicated to commercials and that doesn’t include the in-show ad reads.
The Dan Le Batard Show has been on the air so long (began in 2004) that the hosts and the crew have perfected their timing and ability to make good content in 10-15-minute windows 3-4 times an hour for three hours a day. They discovered that even when a segment is bad, they sink into the failure which then becomes funny. They have created a show so inclusive and fun that its majority listening base of 18-34 year old males make it one of the biggest radio shows in 2020.
When coming back from a commercial break at the top of every hour, there is a rejoin clip played to ready the listener that a new segment is about to start (often a funny moment from a previous show). One of those rejoins that features Dan reading a text sent in from a listener perfectly encapsulates the idea behind the show; “My wife asks me ‘why do you listen to that show? They don’t even talk about sports.’ I said, ‘yeah, that’s the point.’”
Combine their radio expertise with their sarcastic and anarchy instincts, the show produces amazing content in an outdated format. The show is littered with inside jokes and references meant to tickle the long-term fans.
I just finished watching Seinfeld a few days ago. I don’t have an official show ranking, but Seinfeld is definitely included in my favorites. It is probably the best network sitcom edging out Arrested Development due to its consistency over such a long period of time and not having a disappointing Netflix revival. Seinfeld has an undeniable intimacy with its ridiculous and somehow likeable characters that creates a genuinely funny show. It has a continuity perfect for the modern binging age with reoccurring characters, inside jokes, and pop culture satires.
I like Seinfeld for the same reasons that I like The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz. It is a small group of creative minds who appear to want to laugh while entertaining their audience. They try to find the line with what ridiculous concept or idea they can get away with airing on two of the biggest networks. They stand out from all the other sitcoms and radio shows making them unique with an underdog quality.
Can Seinfeld, a show about nothing, really take NBC’s most important time slot and become the biggest show in the world at the same being the weirdest? Can The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz become the biggest sports radio show while not discussing the Super Bowl the Monday after the game? Yes they can.
Due to the time constraints and the nature of sitcoms, the individual episodes of Seinfeld are formulaic. There are often 3 little sub plots that all manage to collide in a catastrophic yet hilarious conclusion. That formula, while noticeable, is not a detriment. It feels like a peculiar artistic math problem where the writers are trying to add pieces together to create the funniest outcome.
The Le Batard Show is less prepared than the episodes of Seinfeld, but listening to the close knit crew riffing on the radio and managing to end most segments on a perfectly placed joke is a skill sharpened by the time constraints of radio.
Seinfeld and The Dan Le Batard Show use the inferior mediums as a tool to make their content better. I am not sure if Seinfeld would be as good if it was on HBO or a internet service with full creativity. In some ways Curb Your Enthusiasm is an unhinged version of Seinfeld and I believe it is not as good (subjective opinion) because of its loose meandering structure.
Arguably the funniest episode of Seinfeld, “The Contest”, revolved around the 4 characters betting money on who could go the longest without masturbating.
Openly talking about masturbating on prime time network TV is about as ballsy as it gets, so much so that they couldn’t say “masturbating” in the episode. They had to use their creative writing and acting to beat around the bush and not say the phrase while having the audience know what they were talking about. The limitation made that episode funnier than if the network let them say the actual word.
The Le Batard Show launched their own podcast network that consist of 6 podcasts featuring the hosts, production crew, and friends of the show. While still enjoyable, those podcasts free from the limitations of radio are not nearly as fine tuned as the daily radio show. They are more watered-down experiences that serve better as side dishes to the main meal.
Even though I hate that the limitations of network TV and terrestrial radio exist only to sell ad space, they can serve as a productive challenge for creatives like the ones behind Seinfeld and Le Batard. Wearing a weighted vest for so long turned them into efficient quality content machines.
I should no longer use blanket statements such as outdated and dying content mediums like network TV and radio cannot produce good content because of their limitations. Sometimes those limitations can be used by the show runners to make even better content than if they weren’t there at all.
Written while listening too:
Warbringer – Weapons of Tomorrow
Between the Buried and Me – Between the Buried and Me (2020 Remix/Remaster)
Asking Alexandria – Like a House On Fire