Seinfeld handles a hit with wit and caution


LOS ANGELES -- It's an odd situation. Seinfeld actually sounds a little bit antsy about "Seinfeld."

Jerry Seinfeld, the wry comic who specializes in droll observations of everyday life, may just have a big hit on his hands. And that sort of worries him.

Not that he ever really feared that his NBC series, a wittily unique and offbeat variation on situation comedy, would fail to make it. He admits he has always possessed a sunny "ignorant faith in the show."

"I just always feel if you're genuinely funny without gimmicks, tricks or trends, you can pretty much write your own ticket."

Of course, Seinfeld, who is creatively involved in the show, didn't know much about TV, anyway. He figured such tactics as being shoved around on the schedule were perfectly normal.

But now, after two years of bobbing about fairly anonymously in the NBC prime-time lineup, "Seinfeld" is generating some real heat.

"Hopefully, we'll not realize we're getting popular," Seinfeld said the other day. "Success is the enemy of comedy."

But even Seinfeld senses the change that's in the air. "It does feel like there's something about to happen," he said.

Casually dressed in jeans, sneakers, a plaid shirt and a blue blazer, Seinfeld took a break from the show to talk with several TV critics last week.

"We've been this cult thing up to now," he said. "We've had a loyal, small group of people watching us. Now that's about to change."

NBC, in fact, is betting on it.

Last week, "Seinfeld" was officially moved into the important 9 p.m. Wednesday time slot, opposite ABC's very popular "Doogie Howser, M.D."

In a recent test run against the Doogster, "Seinfeld" dealt the teen sawbones his lowest ratings of the year. Oh, Doogie still won. But the trend is obvious. "Seinfeld" is moving on up.

And Jerry Seinfeld doesn't want to sacrifice what has made his show special.

"If you start thinking this is important or that we need to be more careful, or that we need more money to do it right, then you're in trouble," he said. "Big-money comedy is an oxymoron."

With "Seinfeld," it's not just the ratings that are beginning to click. Also coming together are the offbeat members of the cast. Besides Jerry, who's essentially playing himself, a thirtysomething stand-up comic living in New York City, there are his ever-present friends: anxiety-ridden George (Jason Alexander), eccentric next-door neighbor Kramer (Michael Richards), and gal pal Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

"I think the characters are starting to look like they are really friends," Seinfeld said. "There's a new comfort level. And that's a big part of this show. You've got to want to hang out with these people."

Seinfeld, a Brooklyn native who spent 13 years honing his stand-up comedy skills in clubs and with concert performances and TV appearances before the pleasant serendipity of "Seinfeld," has known Richards for years. Both used to work on the old ABC late-night cult comedy, "Fridays."

Now all four "Seinfeld" cast members hang out together off-camera.

"That's just luck," Seinfeld said. "You can't figure four people are going to get along like that off camera. And that shows up in our on-screen chemistry."

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