Larry David's Best Advice on Dealing With Network Execs: "Just Say No"

Larry David Steinberg - H 2014
Michael Buckner for Getty Images/Courtesy of BB Gun Press

Larry David Steinberg - H 2014

The comedian talked with David Steinberg in a rare public appearance on Sunday

Larry David "quit" Seinfeld for the second time following a meeting with NBC execs about the fledgling sitcom's upcoming third season in 1991. In conversation with frequent collaborator David Steinberg at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles on Sunday, the comedian and showrunner recalled that before the meeting, executives from Seinfeld producer Castle Rock Entertainment told him, "Look, just do us a favor, OK? Just don't say anything." The network's ideas were universally terrible, David said, "but I kept quiet."

In the parking lot after the meeting, he told Jerry Seinfeld and Castle Rock he was quitting. "I went, 'Well, good luck,' " he said.

When they informed NBC, the network backed down. "From that point on — clear sailing. Hardly any notes at all," David said.

It was the same effect he noticed the first time he "quit" Seinfeld, after an executive producer was hired above David to supervise the show's first and second seasons. David refused to take the exec's notes — "I looked at him and I went, 'no' " — and opted to leave the show, so Seinfeld spoke to Castle Rock, and afterward the exec no longer interfered.

"The lesson there, of course, is just say no. Just say no and you get your way," David said. "They think, if you're walking away from this, you must know what you're doing."

He did leave Seinfeld for good after its seventh of nine seasons, telling Steinberg he departed because he worried about his episodes losing their comedic and storytelling edge. He had the same explanation for why he initially chose not to make a ninth season of his HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. "After eight seasons, I just wasn't sure my ideas would maintain their quality for another season," he said. 

"Yes, they will!" a fan shouted.

"I've been heckled a lot in my life, but that is the nicest heckle I've ever had," David replied.

The show was never canceled; David has just not moved to produce a ninth season (season eight concluded in September 2011), opting instead to write and star in the HBO original movie Clear History, but he has hinted there might be more Curb yet to come. Steinberg inquired whether continuing the show was still a possibility. "I haven't given up the hope," David said.

But the comedian's upcoming project is his Broadway debut Fish in the Dark, which he wrote. He spoke about getting the idea for the play from hearing about a friend's father's death: "He started telling me about it, and I was like, 'Gee, this is kind of funny.' " He hadn't planned on starring in the production, which will open March 5 at the Cort Theatre, but early readers of the play said the central character resembled him too closely for him not to play the role.

"The big fear is it sells out, and then it gets terrible reviews. Then all these people come to a show they know stinks," he said.

He and Steinberg went into detail about the origins of Seinfeld, with David recalling that after he and Seinfeld decided to write a show together, inspiration came to them in a New York grocery store. "We started talking about all the products in the grocery store, and I said, 'This is what the show should be, this kind of inane banter,' " David said. "Next thing I know, we're in California pitching to NBC." He said the meeting went much like Seinfeld's classic TV pitch episode, he said, with NBC execs instructing him and Seinfeld, "That's not the show."

While he and Seinfeld pushed for a single-cam format, the network's desire for multicam won out. He said he hired Jason Alexander to play George Costanza, whom David has said is largely based on himself, after watching just 10 words of the actor's audition tape.

He said he's unperturbed by the show's relative lack of awards recognition (it won the comedy series Emmy only once) and made a point of going golfing whenever the Emmys were held. So Emmys didn't matter to him? Steinberg asked.

"They matter if you're trying to get laid," David replied.

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