It’s been almost twelve years since the final episode of the iconic sitcom Seinfeld aired on May 21, 1998. A year later, its star, Jerry Seinfeld, got married to Jessica Sklar and they had three children. Now he’s putting all that family experience to use in the new comedy panel series, The Marriage Ref, which the star describes as ‘a comedy about situations in reality.’
The producer, and occasional guest, on the new show, Jerry Seinfeld spoke to us about his new gig in reality TV.
How would you describe this show?
I decided that we really should put it forth as a challenge to the media to come up with what the hell this thing is, because it’s a unique conglomeration of different things, some familiar, some not, but never brought together in this recipe before.
Basically, the idea of the show is it’s real married couples having a real fight in their home. They’re not in the studio. And we watch the video in the studio with a live audience and a panel of celebrity guests, and Tom Papa, who is our marriage ref.
We’re going to discuss the argument, who’s right, who’s wrong, and we’re going to make a call in favor of the husband or the wife, very similar to the way it’s done in sports. Because we felt the sports simplicity is what’s missing in marriage.
What made this the idea that brought you back to TV?
I had this idea rattling around, and I really was trying to dismiss it. I didn’t want to do it. And my wife was really the one who kept saying to me, ‘You should do The Marriage Ref. We had been friendly with Ellen Rakieten, and she was working on Oprah, and she was feeling it was time for her to make a career change, and it just seemed to kind of happen that both Ellen and I felt like we were ready to do something different.
What kind of ‘cases’ to you explore?
We have a couple where the dog died and they get into an argument, ‘Should we stuff the dog or not?’ Now a fight like that could go on for a year, and we just end it. But we do try and make the right decision. But it’s like in baseball, and Tom and I are big baseball fans, I kind of like it when the umpire blows the call. That’s part of the game. It’s just like a game about human beings. And so we’re not so big on right and wrong. We’re just going to make the call, ‘I think he was out. I think he was safe, let’s move on.’
Why a panel of celebrities instead of experts?
Because experts are helpful, and that’s not our thing! This is a comedy show. We really feel laughing at yourself, laughing at your marriage, seeing other marriages that are also in absurd situations is a wonderful medicine. And we don’t believe there are experts anyway, even if we wanted them.
What fights are off-limits that you won’t touch?
Anything to do with kids; anything that makes you uncomfortable that seems like the marriage might be in real trouble.
There are a few people I think of who probably know less about fighting fair in marriage than Alec Baldwin, but he’s on one of the panels.
Who said anything about fighting fair? There’s no fighting fair. There’s just fighting. It’s fighting funny. That’s what we’re interested in. The fact that people that don’t fight fair, but are funny, are great.
Does the panel talk with the couples who are having the fight and give them advice?
No, they just talk amongst themselves and with Tom. And after they’ve all said their piece and Tom has made his decision, the couple will come on satellite live on the show, and they will be told here is who won the fight. It’s decided when they come on.