Thousands of Baltimore residents who were just settling down to watch the grand finale of "Seinfeld" last night ended up pointing their clickers at blank television screens, incredulous and infuriated, as a power outage struck the city at the worst possible moment.
Some 17,000 utility customers in North, Northeast and Northwest Baltimore lost power about 6 p.m. -- then lost it again after televisions flickered to life for a 20-minute tease from about 8: 20 p.m. to 8: 40 p.m.
The special 75-minute "Seinfeld" started at 8: 45 p.m.
An unknown number of Baltimore residents retained their electric power but lost their cable service and, with it, their plans to watch the much-ballyhooed program.
"I'm distraught," moaned Denise Carolan, 44, of Charles Village. "It's what everyone had on their minds tonight: Come home, watch 'Seinfeld,' and relax.
"Everybody is going to be talking about it tomorrow, and I don't want to hear all the punch lines."
Tony Reid, a West Lake Avenue resident, said after his cable went out for the second time, "I tried to call TCI no fewer than 12 times and the number was busy. I'm standing here looking at a black screen."
Telephone lines to TCI Communications of Baltimore, the city's cable provider, remained flooded last night and a spokesman could not be reached.
City government's cable office said its message system was jammed with calls and no more complaints would be accepted.
Kathleen Nolan, a spokeswoman for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., said the trouble desk at BGE was overwhelmed with calls about the power outage.
The chief gripe: No "Seinfeld."
"The switchboard at our downtown offices lit up something awful," she said.
Nolan didn't know why some residents had no power and others lost only cable but retained electricity. She said crews were working to correct the problem, which resulted when three feeder lines failed at two substations, on Liberty Heights Avenue in Forest Park in Northwest Baltimore and on Centre Street downtown.
Affected sections of the city included some prime "Seinfeld"-watching neighborhoods: Charles Village, Guilford, Roland Park and Hamilton. The outages were sporadic -- many houses in the 21218 ZIP code in North Baltimore lost power but the Johns Hopkins University, which shares that ZIP code, was not affected.
Some residents called friends and relatives and asked them to tape the show, but others decided "must-see TV" meant just that.
Kevin McGowan, 40, a schoolteacher, raced out of his house and into a nearby Rootie Kazootie's restaurant at the corner of Charles and 27th streets, which was not affected by the outage.
Nevertheless, he lamented, "It's a disaster."
Other patrons clutched flashlights in preparation for re-entry into darkened homes and commiserated with one another as they stared at the restaurant's several televisions.
Other businesses weren't as fortunate.
Waitress Anne Craig, in the closed Charles Village Pub in the 3100 block of St. Paul St., said people had been calling all day to make sure the pub would be showing "Seinfeld," and a heavy crowd had been expected.
"We lost [power] in the middle of the Superbowl a year or two ago," Craig added ruefully.
Although viewership for last night's "Seinfeld" was not expected to top the final episode of "M*A*S*H" in 1983, a survey from Eisner & Associates Inc. of Baltimore predicted 44 percent of all adults nationwide -- or about 110 million viewers -- would tune in.
Neil Gabbey was among those not amused to learn that the program touted as the "show about nothing" really was about nothing last night.
"It's this generation's 'Who shot J.R.?' " said the 27-year-old teacher at Gilman School.
"My wife and I are sitting here reading in the family room, but we can still hear the buzz of the TV just in case. But I'm losing hope. As a watcher since show one, I'm incredibly annoyed."
For some, the outage saga ended as it might have if it were all just another episode on "Seinfeld."
Carolan's television was among those snapping back on in time for the credits to roll by.
Most customers got back power about 9: 40 p.m., Nolan said. About 3,500 others were still blacked out at 11 p.m., but they were expected to have power restored by midnight -- two hours after "Seinfeld" signed off.
Pub Date: 5/15/98