"It is a case of another kind of media frenzy that is self-perpetuating, [naming] a winner of the moment," Gelbart said. "I think virtues are being attributed to the show [that] the people involved don't even claim for themselves. It's a show about a bunch of spiteful, mean-spirited people. It's fun, but it's hardly statue material."
Gelbart nevertheless sees value in the public send-off "Seinfeld" is receiving. "Anything that brings us together--God knows there are enough things that keep us apart--is good for the family that we are as a nation."
Not everyone would agree.
"Everybody likes ice cream. They just have different flavors," said NYU's Gitlin. "I'm not nostalgic for the days when we all talked about a common show. It didn't make us a better or a happier society."
Television officials concede it may be a long wait for another program to rival "Seinfeld." "Cheers" prompted prime time's last major public funeral in 1993, preceded by "M*A*S*H" (whose finale remains the highest-rated program ever) a decade earlier.