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Super Seinfeld : But Just How Do They Come Up With Those Ideas, Anyway?


It's a damp Friday morning, and Jerry Seinfeld is sitting at a corner table at Hugo's in West Hollywood perusing the breakfast menu.

Suddenly, an excitable woman in her early 30s materializes at Seinfeld's table. "I am sorry!" she says, jumping up and down nervously. "I am (here) all the way from New York. I love your show! I know you probably hate people like me, but your show is so funny. I just had to tell you."

Seinfeld breaks into a bemused grin.

"Thank you," he says.

"Could I have your autograph?," she asks, thrusting a card on the table. "I have a pen."

"What's your name?" Seinfeld asks.

"Laurie. Thank you, thank you."

"She was very excited," Seinfeld says wryly, not too surprised. No wonder; such scenes are becoming more and more commonplace for this comic.

And for good reason. Seinfeld's laugh-out-loud Emmy-winning NBC comedy series is suddenly, in its third season, on a roll. Seinfeld--and co-stars Julia-Louis Dreyfus, who plays his ex-girlfriend Elaine; Jason Alexander, his befuddled best friend George, and Michael Richards, the high-haired Kramer--have taken over the pop-culture landscape.

It's a rare Friday morning now that folks at the office copy machine or the corner car pool aren't talking about the odd little "Seinfeld" slice-of-life they saw the night before.

"We (always) had a strong following, you know," Seinfeld says matter-of-factly, working up to an order of pumpkin pancakes and a cappuccino with skim milk. "Everybody who worked on the show knows that it is a very broad-based hit. But the perception was it was like a narrow, demographic hit--urban, yuppie, whatever. There were all different kinds of people watching the show--including Laurie."

And a lot more of them are watching now, since NBC switched "Seinfeld's" time slot from Wednesdays at 9 p.m., opposite ABC's popular sitcom "Home Improvement," to Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. following "Cheers." Since the February move, the series has carved a solid niche for itself in the Nielsen Top 10. (Last month, series director Tom Cherones won the prestigious Directors Guild of America award for his direction of "The Contest" episode.)

One thing Seinfeld would like to clear up: the idea that he and co-creator and executive producer Larry David pitched the show to NBC as a comedy basically about "nothing."

"We said it would be a show about conversation, which is almost the same as nothing," Seinfeld explains. "It wouldn't be heavy on story."

But as the series developed, stories kept emerging. "They were hard to resist and now we do a lot of stories, offbeat stories, but they are stories."

He modestly won't brag that these are extremely witty and clever stories that consistently push the envelope of TV comedy, and get tongues wagging all over the country.

Diving into his pancakes, Seinfeld acknowledges that the writers and producers don't actually map out the season. The only story arc planned this year was an art-imitating-life story line about Jerry and George writing a comedy pilot about "nothing" for NBC. "The first show would be the meeting at NBC and the last show would be the filming," he says. "We considered a few times just abandoning the whole thing. We are kind of trying to determine if people were interested in the story line, if they wanted to see what this pilot would be."

Since "Seinfeld" premiered in the spring of 1990, the series has turned its comedic eye to topics that don't generally fall into sitcom land: masturbation, outing, breast implants and the neo-Nazi movement. An upcoming episode deals with, of all things, B.O.

Exactly how do they think up this stuff? Who came up with the concept of Kramer shooting Elaine's photo for her Christmas cards--and not telling her her breast was exposed? Or how about the malevolent bubble boy?

"A lot of times they are things that happened to the writers," Seinfeld says, stopping mid-sentence to admire his cappuccino.

"Look at this foam," he muses, picking up his spoon and running it through the foam. "I wish I had this kind of lather on my shampoo this morning."

Maybe an episode in the making?

Seinfeld leans across the table. "Let me tell you a secret about ideas," he says. "Many people ask, 'Where do you get this idea and where did you get that idea?' The real, secret truth of the genesis of ideas is that nobody knows where they are coming from. They make up things.

"Nobody really knows the truth to that question. It is a mystery. If jokes come into your head, you become a comedian. But you don't know where the jokes are coming from. If songs come into your head, you're a musician. But you don't really know where the music is coming from."

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