Emmys: Jerry Seinfeld on Why He May Never Go Back to TV (Q&A)
The most successful sitcom star of all time, nominated for his online series "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," lets loose about his former network ("Who is the head of NBC now? Anybody?"), late-night TV ("a sad feeling"), and Oscar hosting ("that door has kind of closed behind me").
THR: Your personal car collection is legendary, and you pick a specific car for each of your guests on the show. If you were a guest, which car would you choose for you?
Seinfeld: I have a '57 Porsche Speedster, which is the most minimal car. It's a little piece of perfection, and it was a very inexpensive car when it was made. It's like a good piece of comedy. It doesn't have one extra thing on it. It's just boiled down to an essence, and so I would hope that someone would pick that for me.
THR: Do you ever look back at Seinfeld and wish it had gone on longer?
Seinfeld: Oh, no. It really wasn't doable.
THR: NBC thought it was, and the Brink's truck was parked outside your door.
Seinfeld: Yeah, but I'm sure you've talked with showrunners, and you know how hard that life is. You're not supposed to be a showrunner, head writer and star. That's three people. Even when I was doing it with Larry [David], who is a genius. And the one thing the show did not deserve was to be abused for money, and that's what I saw coming.
THR: Could you do Seinfeld the same way today?
Seinfeld: Sure, it was just funny. Though if we did the show today, it would feel very dated in four or five years because of the technology. In the 1990s, the technology was moving much slower. And so many problems are so easily solved now, I think it might be a little harder to be funny. With sitcoms, you need problems that are hard to solve. It's so easy to communicate with things like texting, why would you go over to somebody's house? So you'd need phony excuses to go over to people's houses to push sitcom stories.
THR: When people talk about must-see-TV comedy, often they're still referring to the Seinfeld era. How does that make you feel? Odd? Pleased?
Seinfeld: Odd. I don't understand why someone hasn't come along and made a better show. That's supposed to happen. I would like it to happen. It should happen.
THR: You still spend a significant amount of time on the road with your stand-up act. Why?
Seinfeld: If you're a surfer, you just want to surf. You don't know if anyone's going to see you, and you don't really care if they see you. You just live for that feeling.
THR: You're close with Jay Leno. What kind of advice have you given him about life post-The Tonight Show?
Seinfeld: Jay's got a pretty strong internal driver. He kind of knows what he wants; he knows what he doesn't want. So I'm not really directing him, I just listen to him. He'll figure out what he wants to do, and when he figures that out, I'll encourage him to do it. Whatever it is.
THR: What would you have done if the network had come to you while your show was still at the top and said, "We're pulling you off in a few months"?
Seinfeld: After I stopped laughing, what would I say? It's quite a story, isn't it? And a struggling network, by the way. We have a No. 1 show, and we're going to take it off the air. … So what do you do? Do you keep him on there until he's Andy Rooney? Do you wait until the numbers start to slip? I don't know. Who is the head of NBC now? Anybody? This is a good question for you to ask them. I'd read that interview.
THR: You did return to NBC a few years ago with an unscripted show called The Marriage Ref. What was behind that move?
Seinfeld: I was curious to see what it felt like to spin a top and then walk away from it because I'd seen people do that. I never really wanted to have my name on it. But I got a lot out of that show.
THR: What did you learn?
Seinfeld: I made Comedians in Cars out of that show. If you look at it, you'll see what I was going for on that show. I think it's interesting to hear people talk about something that's powerful and interesting to them out of the box. But I couldn't make it happen. One of the big things I realized was that the audience is stopping these people from talking. The other thing I realized is that I was much more interested in comedians than I was in a lot of other people whom I thought I was interested in. So, in some ways, I took that pot, smashed it on the ground, took four or five pieces and re-glued them into another thing.
THR: Now I'm going to have to go back and watch …
Seinfeld: There's nothing much to watch. (Laughs.)