"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.
Even so, within the industry, hope continues to spring eternal, with producers and executives stressing that one can never predict when and where the next hit program will arise.
According to Chuck Lorre, executive producer of the ABC comedy "Dharma & Greg," which paid homage to "Seinfeld" in this week's episode, the water-cooler show will merely lie dormant "till somebody does something remarkable. The medium fools you. It still has the capacity to bring people together."
* THE FINAL PITCH: A Carpinteria energy bar firm is going up against the big guys with an ad during the show. D1
* BIG FINISH: How huge will last "Seinfeld" ratings be? Calendar Weekend