Seinfeld, NBC Renew Their Vows With 'The Marriage Ref'

By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, February 27, 2009

Jerry Seinfeld is returning to series TV!

On NBC!

But he won't star!

And, it's not a scripted series!

It's a reality show!

Comics advising real couples with marital woes!

Wow!

NBC said yesterday that it was "proud to announce" a new comedy/reality series created by "superstar comedian and producer Jerry Seinfeld's Columbus 81 Productions."

Yes, Jerry Seinfeld -- the man who famously met, wooed and won his wife right after she returned to Manhattan from her honeymoon with her new husband, Eric Nederlander -- has created a TV series in which comics, sports figures and opinionated celebrities (which sounds like NBC-speak for Donald Trump) will advise average-Joe couples in the throes of a "classic marital dispute."

"The Marriage Ref" "is not a therapy show, it's a comedy show," Seinfeld said in a canned statement. "After nine years of marriage, I have discovered that the comedic potential of this subject is quite rich."

Seinfeld will be partnered in the project with Ellen Rakieten, a 23-year veteran of "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

"Rakieten joined 'The Oprah Winfrey Show' as a producer at its inception in the mid-1980s and was a major force in creating the most dominant program in daytime history," according to the network.

NBC told The Reporters Who Cover Television that "Mr. Seinfeld is thrilled to partner with Ms. Rakieten on 'The Marriage Ref.' "

Mr. Seinfeld seconded that:

"There is no better partner for me on this venture than Ellen. She has had such an amazing experience at [Winfrey's production company] Harpo, and our minds seem perfectly synchronized on the potential of this idea," he added, sounding for all the world like NBC President Russell Dalrymple (Bob Balaban) from "Seinfeld."

It sure seems as though Jerry Seinfeld is getting into bed with the kind of people who used to work on the kind of shows Jerry Seinfeld used to mock, when he was mad talented and not just mad rich.

"While 'Seinfeld' was a hilarious look at single life, this new show will focus on the humor of relationships and marriage," added NBC's new head of all things reality-TV, Paul Telegdy, in yesterday's announcement.

Rakieten weighed in, too, saying that "The Marriage Ref" will be "revealing, edgy, controversial and very, very funny. Picture well-known people weighing in on a couple's relationship issues -- and deciding who is right and who is wrong -- right on the spot, like a referee."

Back in 1998, when the press was weighing in on Seinfeld's relationship with the then Mrs. Eric Nederlander, the comic was buttonholed one day by a New York Post reporter and told that reporter, "You know, I'm barely interested in my own life -- I don't know how you could be interested in it." When the reporter persisted, asking Seinfeld about what role he might be playing in the dissolution of the four-month marriage of Nederlander and Jessica Sklar, Seinfeld responded by calling the reporter "a poor human being."

"Could you imagine people asking about their relationship, like it's high school. It's so sad."

* * *

About 3.4 million people watched Conan O'Brien's farewell telecast as host of NBC's "Late Night" last Friday -- his biggest audience in more than four years.

Back on Jan. 24 of '05, Conan clocked 3.9 million viewers. It followed a broadcast of "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" that had logged a stunning 13.4 million viewers. That night, Leno's show was a tribute to the late Johnny Carson, longtime "Tonight Show" host; it was "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno's" biggest audience since -- the night of the "Seinfeld" series finale.

Conan takes over as host of "The Tonight Show" June 1.

* * *

Fox has renewed "The Simpsons" for two more seasons, which will bring its total season count to 22, breaking "Gunsmoke's" 20-year record.

Sorry, Dick Wolf.

But while "The Simpsons" beats "Gunsmoke" to become the longest-running prime-time entertainment series -- something Wolf has been determined to do with his "Law & Order" series -- it does not beat "Gunsmoke's" record for most episodes.

Fox has ordered 44 more episodes of the virtually indestructible animated Sunday series, bringing its total count to 493. The network must order an additional 143 episodes after that if "The Simpsons" is to edge out "Gunsmoke's" 635.

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