Seinfeld composer reveals NBC execs tried to kill his 'weird' and 'annoying' theme song
But if you're interested in the very fascinating finer points, Wolff has revealed the rocky journey his music took from the page to the boardroom and finally to the small screen.
"Now, remember, late-'80s theme songs were melodic, with a lot of silly lyrics and sassy saxophones," the composer said in a new interview for Yahoo Entertainment and SiriusXM's Volume in which he discussed his Hollywood career and how his sitcom masterpiece came to be. "And, yes, guilty — I did a lot of that kind of music! But I knew it wasn't going to work here."
Enter Wolff's secret weapon: the slap bass. "Slap bass had not yet enjoyed 'celebrity status' as a solo instrument," Wolff said. "I knew I wanted to use that. And in the late '80s, sampling technology was in its infancy, and I really, really wanted to use it as much as I possibly could to create new and weird genres of music."
"I pitched Jerry the idea that Jerry's voice would be the melody of the Seinfeld theme," Wolff explained. "And my job would be to accompany Jerry in a way that worked organically with his human voice. The human nature of his voice, I told him, would go well with the human nature of my finger snaps and lips and tongue doing stuff. Now I had Jerry's attention, because that sort of music was kind of from Mars at the time. And it was going to enable me to use those sampling technologies that I really wanted to use."
But realizing his strange vision wasn't quite so simple. As Wolff recalled, co-creator Larry David invited him to a meeting with NBC executives at the end of Seinfeld's short first season because his theme music was "on the list" of the network's concerns.
"First of all, let me just say that the NBC execs that were there for Seinfeld... they're all good guys. They're all smart people. And their objections were natural and realistic," Wolff said. "They thought the music sounded odd and weird: 'Is that real music? What instrument is that? Could we not afford an orchestra?'"
He continued, "[NBC Entertainment's then-president] Warren Littlefield laid it out. He said, 'It's weird. It's distracting. It's annoying.' When he said that word… oh, Larry, he loves annoying! He lives for annoying! That's his primary goal in life!"
It was David, it seems, who ultimately saved Wolff's music, pushing to keep it in the show. The composer offered to scrap it, telling David and Seinfeld, "Look, guys. Look at that list. You can see on the notepad, there's other [network complaints] on there. So, choose your battles. I can change the music. Jerry, you saw how I do this — give me a couple hours, and I'll get you new music. You'll love it."
But David wasn't having it. "Larry got so mad at me!" Wolff said in the interview. "He just started yelling at me: 'Get out! Wolff, you're done here, get out!' He was just so offended at the notion that I would cave. And he threw me out of the meeting!… Larry was not having it. Larry did not like being told to change things."
His enthusiasm uncurbed, David ultimately won the battle, and Wolff's theme music stayed.
Seinfeld is currently streaming nowhere, as Hulu's rights to the series have expired, but it will arrive on Netflix this fall.