Marriage tips from the stars: Seinfeld's greatest joke yet?

Comedian returns with show that sees 'real couples' air their problems for laughs
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The Independent Online

Jerry Seinfeld was not joking when he approached NBC, the network where his eponymous comedy sitcom reigned supreme for nine years until 1998, and proposed a reality show with Hollywood stars giving ordinary folks tips on resolving marital conflicts. Celebrities advising us on staying married? That's funny.

But, no, seriously. This is the concept of the programme tentatively titled The Marriage Ref, which NBC has just signed up for six one-hour episodes this autumn. It's hard to resist Mr Seinfeld, however odd his idea might be. After all, he has not had a regular television gig for 11 years.

Over at 30 Rockefeller Centre, they want us to know that a show about marriage is his obvious next step. His old comedy show – famously "about nothing" – was really about making fun of the bachelor lives he led with his pals Kramer, George and Elaine.

It should be seen, in other words, as a sequel. "It's not a therapy show, it's a comedy show," Seinfeld, 54, said of the project, which will be created in partnership with Ellen Rakieten, a veteran producer of The Oprah Winfrey Show.

"After nine years of marriage, I have discovered that the comedic potential of this subject is quite rich. Some of the greatest comedies in the history of television have been around marriage," insisted Ben Silverman, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment. "The concept is so universal and accessible, and obviously it works so well when it comes from somebody with a point of view – and nobody has a stronger point of view on this subject than Seinfeld."

What Jerry's insight on marriage might be, none of us yet know, beyond that he thinks weddings are hugely overrated. That was the theme of a recent stand-up routine he gave on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. "It's a bad party. It's long, expensive, boring, uncomfortable. If you were going to plan a good party would you invite all the oldest people you know?" he asked.

It is true, meanwhile, that the background to his own marriage nine years ago to his own wife, Jessica, was a tad unusual. She got hitched in June 1998 to someone else, then met Seinfeld at a Manhattan gym shortly after returning from her honeymoon, and got a divorce from hubby number one in October 1998 in time to marry her funny man Jerry the following year. They now have three children.

And it is no secret that marriage can be a deep quarry for comedy. Basil-versus-Sybil, Lucy-versus-Ricky and so on. On Seinfeld itself, the parents of George Costanza, Frank and Estelle, played by Jerry Stiller (father of Ben) and Estelle Harris, provided their own running pantomime of spousal spats.

But if these battles royal work well in drama or situation comedies, peeking into the disputes of real-life couples may not be quite so hilarious.

But NBC seems content to let Seinfeld give it a try, even if we know very little about the precise format. It would seem, however, that each hour will feature one or more "ordinary American couple" and a panel of entertainment and sports stars advising them. A referee will then end each episode deciding which person, husband or wife, is in the wrong.

The biggest unknown is what part Seinfeld will play. His rare gigs in recent years have left fans hoping he will have an on-screen role in The Marriage Ref. But he is giving nothing away.