Friday, February 8, 2013

SEINFELD - The Rankings: Seasons and Writers

I've rated every Seinfeld episode, completely subjectively, in order of how much I would want to watch the individual episode. Primarily I've rated them based on my own feeling about their rewatchability and how much they make me laugh, although I'm sure other factors played out in my mind as I sorted them out. Before I get to the full rankings, a few accolades...

Below I've averaged out my rankings of each season, noted how many top 25 and top 50 episodes each season had, and averaged the top three episodes from each season to give a sense of each season's peak.

Season Episodes Average Top 25 Top 50 Top 3 Avg
Seven 22 54.8 8 12 7
Eight 22 59.5 3 8 12.7
Nine 21 64.9 4 9 12.0
Five 21 70.7 7 8 3.3
Six 22 88.3 0 4 32.3
Four 22 96.3 2 5 23.0
Three 22 115.9 0 3 39.3
Two 12 138.5 1 1 86.0
One 5 143.4 0 0 128.7

Season seven, the season George spent engaged to Susan and Larry David's last season on the show, is a worthy champ. If we judge a season by its best episodes, however, season five closes the gap. It's the only season with three episodes in my top 10, including the top two. Interestingly, coming off the season when Jerry and George pitched a pilot to NBC, season five had no major season-long arc.

My rankings also reveal the show's learning curve. Season two was a small step forward. Season three to four to five saw the show rise to become a mega-hit. I do think season six was a small step backward from the hilarity to be found in the two seasons on either side of it, five and seven.

It's Larry David and it's not close.

This fact is a bit harder to quantify using my rankings, though. David was credited with an incredible 55 scripts - more than twice as many as anyone else. He was responsible for 9 of my top 25, and 1/3 of my top 75 episodes. But those high numbers includes plenty of clunkers, which leads David's average episode ranking to regress to the mean. Most of his weakest episodes came in the show's early seasons, when he and the show were still finding their legs. (Peter Mehlman, Jerry Seinfeld, and Larry Charles also have low average rankings mainly due to the scripts they are credited with from the earliest years.)

Bottom line: for the seven seasons David worked on the show, he influenced every script. And his final season, taken as a whole, is arguably one of the greatest seasons in television comedy history. Overall, Jerry Seinfeld deserves equal credit to David in terms of crafting the style, humor, and substance of the show. And Seinfeld's voice is can be heard in every script. But David stands alone as the show's greatest writer.

All that aside, lets take a look at the numbers. I've averaged out every episode each writer received a credit or co-credit for, whether it was story or teleplay (usually it was both). I counted both individuals and partnerships that contributed at least two scripts. Sometimes an individual contributed scripts both alone and in a partnership, hence some writers appear on two lines. Larry David, for example, wrote 17 scripts with Jerry Seinfeld. David's total of 55 scripts include those 17. And I only highlighted the most substantial partnerships.

Anyway, here are the numbers for writers credited with at least 5 episodes, in order of average ranking:

Episodes         Avg Top 25 Top 50  Top 75
Steve Koren 5 52.8 1 2 4
Andy Robin 11 53.4 3 6 9
Gammill and Pross 13 56.6 4 6 9
Berg and Schaffer 13 60.8 3 5 7
Spike Feresten 8 62.5 0 3 6
David Mandel 8 62.9 2 4 5
Kavet and Robin 9 63.1 1 4 7
Dan O' Keefe 5 63.4 1 3 0
Carol Leifer 6 83.2 1 2 2
Jennifer Crittenden 5 87.4 0 0 2
Larry David 55 91.0 9 17 25
Peter Mehlman 20 103.1 1 2 2
David and Seinfeld 17 111.2 3 3 5
Larry Charles 16 131.3 0 0 0

You can see how working on the show in its early years (as well as the fact that I don't like Larry Charles's scripts) dragged down Larry Charles, Jerry Seinfeld, Peter Mehlman, and Larry David. You can also see how no one really rises to the top: a 52.8 average is hardly a coronation for Steve Koren. Still, the top of the chart highlights some great writers who contributed much to Seinfeld's brilliance.

Just for kicks, here are the other writers I ranked:

Writer Episodes          Avg
Bruce Eric Kaplan 2 25.5
Fred Stoller 2 35.5
Hauge and Rubin 2 35.5
Steve O'Donnell 2 49.0
Sam Henry Kass 2 52.0
Darin Henry 3 67.3
Bill Masters 3 72.7
Bruce Kirschbaum 3 96.3
Marc Jaffe 2 96.5
Marjorie Gross 4 104.0
Bob Shaw 2 116.5
Tom Leopold 3 116.7
Elaine Pope 3 151.7
Matt Goldman 2 160.5

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