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Costanza Theory Applies to News, Too

February 27, 2011

One of the all-time great Seinfeld shows is an episode in which fictionalized character George Costanza (played by Jason Alexander) and Jerry Seinfeld meet with NBC executives to pitch an idea for a new television sitcom.

George’s concept is that the show should be about “nothing.”

That, of course, is what most people think the real Seinfeld television series was all about, a show where the humor was found within the idiosyncrasies of the characters, and not so much in an underlying storyline. Entire shows were centered on the characters going out to dinner or to the movies.

In one episode, George proposes his idea for a sitcom to NBC executives, and when he’s pressed by the network President to describe a typical storyline, George remains adamant that the show is to be about “nothing.”

Finally, the network president rhetorically asks that if there’s no storyline, “why am I watching?” George replies, “Because it’s on TV.”

The President responds, “Not yet”, but George’s theory that people will watch, “because it’s on TV”, isn’t far off the mark, and it’s being played out in real life every day on 24/7 cable news networks.

There was a time when most of the country lived on farms or in rural areas where there were plenty of chores that needed to get done and those things took up a lot of family time. They were necessities, not leisure activities, and they had to be done every day.

Those included shoveling coal into the furnace, clearing the driveway after a snow storm, feeding livestock, mending fences, maintaining the house and property, and preparing family meals, mostly from scratch.  These things consumed large portions of the day, and there wasn't much time for television.

With the advent of progress, things are different today and while everyone seems to be on the “go”, in reality there is a lot of downtime for most families. Lifestyles are centered inside the home and the focus is on home entertainment and not so much being outside with chores.

A majority of people now live in suburban style neighborhoods and communities, apartments and town houses, where maintaining a small plot of grass or garden is considered a major weekend project.

In a world of 194 countries and 7 billion people (310 million the United States) there is an overabundance of people, protests, governments, sports and entertainment, pop culture, and political activities. This is a gold mine of world “nothingness” for cable television and news media outlets to report on, and beam into homes 24 hours a day.

We are continually being told that political demonstrations in the state of Wisconsin or elsewhere are just as relevant to people who pay taxes in Pennsylvania, Maryland, or South Carolina.

The same thing can be said about the ongoing rebellions in the Middle East. While the United States consumes only a fraction of Libya’s oil production (2 percent) we are constantly being bombarded with dire consequences if the civil unrest isn’t resolved soon and in a certain way that benefits the U.S.

All this makes for great television and it’s produced in “game day” style so we can easily keep score and determine who is up and who is down in each circumstance.

This electronic entertainment process knows no bounds, making it very difficult to remember last week’s news event, or the lasting impact it was reportedly going to have on our daily lives.

History has shown that we will survive every catastrophic event, and the effects of the hype are usually more disconcerting than the ultimate result and reality. We also know that another major news event is right around the corner.

The essence of Seinfeld is there’s not much new going on in everyday life that will make us laugh – the humor lies in the actions and reactions of the characters in those routine circumstances.

Fictionalized character George Costanza theorized that people will watch a sitcom “because it’s on television”, and in his mind, that was reason enough for NBC executives to accept his idea for a show.

The Costanza theory applies to news, too.

We watch because it’s on television.