‘Seinfeld,’ No. 14 in Its Debut Season, Would Beat Every Show But One Today

Tim Molloy
The Wrap

A lot has changed since the first episode of “The Seinfeld Chronicles” debuted 25 years ago — least of all the show's name.

When the show about nothing premiered on July 5, 1989, the first George Bush was president and Jack Nicholson was the Joker. Paula Abdul was the year's biggest-selling musical act. A gallon of gas cost $1.12. The Berlin Wall still stood.

See photos: ‘Seinfeld’ at 25: What's Changed and What Hasn't Since 1989

In its first summer, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David‘s sitcom had an 8.0 rating. That was good enough to make it the No. 14 show of summer 1989. Today, an 8.0 rating would tie it with “Sunday Night Football” for TV's biggest show.

To underline that: Today's top show of the year ties the No. 14 show of the summer in 1989, an era when summer was considered a TV dead zone.

In the regular 1989-90 season, “Seinfeld” was the No. 17 show with a 9.5 rating — far better than the rating of any show on the air today.

TV ratings have fallen so much that the number for today's No. 2 show, “The Walking Dead,” wouldn't be good enough to crack the Top 30 in summer 1989. (It's 6.8 rating in the key 18-49 demographic would tie that of “Full House.”)

For the full 1989-90 season, “The Walking Dead” would come in tied for No. 54, behind “Perfect Strangers.”)

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The quickly renamed “Seinfeld” soon went on to become the top-rated show on television, and earn ratings that easily dwarf those of any modern show.

But rather than say ratings have fallen since the days of “Seinfeld,” it may be kinder to say ratings have spread out. The average home in 1989 had 27 channels, compared to about five times that number today. Viewers not only have more channels, but more options, including time-shifting and the entire internet. In 1989, if you forgot to watch or tape “The Seinfeld Chronicles” on your VCR (a small box that constantly flashed 12:00 a.m.), you had to hear about it at work, at the water cooler, which was a liquefied predecessor of Twitter.

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Some of those statistics come courtesy of Horizon Media, the media services agency that just happens to have been founded in 1989.

“There's so many choices out there. It's so fractionalized,” Brad Adgate, Horizon's head of research, told TheWrap. “The population's getting older, it's more ethnically diverse… there's so many changes. There has been nothing but disruption from that world of 25 years ago when Fox was just a fledgling network and the Big 3 networks were doing numbers that only a handful of specials do today.”

How good were ratings then compared to now? Check out this chart:

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