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Seinfeld composer Jonathan Wolff says that the sitcom’s famed theme song was almost different after he agreed to change it following network executives’ negative notes.
Over two decades after Seinfeld went off the air — and on the heels of the official soundtrack album’s release earlier this month — Wolff spoke to Yahoo Entertainment and SiriusXM’s Volume about his experience getting the opening credits music into the show. The composer, who has also written music for Will & Grace and Married… With Children, shared that around the end of the first season, NBC executives expressed hesitations around the slap bass and finger snap-fueled tune.
“They thought the music sounded odd and weird: ‘Is that real music? What instrument is that? Could we not afford an orchestra?’” Wolff recounted.
Despite the less than positive response, the frequent TV composer conceded that he understood where the executives were coming from.
“Let me just say that the NBC execs that were there for Seinfeld, I worked with them for many, many years. I did 17 series with these same folks. I’m fully retired, so I have no need to flatter anybody for any reason — and I will tell you that they’re all good guys. They’re all smart people. And their objections were natural and realistic,” Wolff said.
Wolff was invited to the meeting — which also included star and comedian Jerry Seinfeld and Castle Rock Entertainment’s Glenn Padnick — by Seinfeld co-creator Larry David. Questions about the theme were handed down then and there, alongside a long list of other notes.
“Since I was there, they made it the first item, and [NBC Entertainment’s then-president] Warren Littlefield laid it out. He said, ‘It’s weird. It’s distracting. It’s annoying,” Wolff recounted. “When he said that word… oh, Larry, he loves annoying! He lives for annoying! That’s his primary goal in life!”
After hearing Littlefield’s complaints, Wolff told American Songwriter that the team convened with Glenn who said that despite the long list of asks, “I will go to the mat for you, with you on anything that you feel strongly about.”
That’s when Wolff said he offered to change the song so that David, Seinfeld and the others could focus on winning battles over the other notes.
“Look, guys. Look at that list,” he told Yahoo Entertainment. “You can see on the notepad, there’s other [network complaints] on there. So, choose your battles. I can change the music. Jerry, you saw how I do this — give me a couple hours, and I’ll get you new music. You’ll love it.”
But David did not love it, and Wolff said that he was ultimately thrown out of the meeting for even suggesting the concession.
“Larry got so mad at me! He just started yelling at me: ‘Get out! Wolff, you’re done here, get out!’ He was just so offended at the notion that I would cave. And he threw me out of the meeting!” Wolff said. “Larry was not having it. Larry did not like being told to change things.”
Wolff also shared several of the inspirations for the theme music David wasn’t willing to let go of. In addition to a strong desire to use slap bass, which he said “had not yet enjoyed ‘celebrity status’ as a solo instrument” and sampling technology which interested him due to its potential to “create new and weird genres of music,” star Jerry Seinfeld’s voice played a key role in how the theme song turned out.
“I pitched Jerry the idea that Jerry’s voice would be the melody of the Seinfeld theme. And my job would be to accompany Jerry in a way that worked organically with his human voice,” Wolff shared. “The human nature of his voice, I told him, would go well with the human nature of my fingers-snaps and lips and tongue doing stuff.”
“It was designed, it was architected, to be modularly manipulatable so that every monologue would be a variation on the theme,” he continued. “And I would record a new piece of music to go with each monologue. And that is how it was born.”
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