Synopsis: A recent article compared the strength in equity markets to a beloved 90s sitcom. But I wasn’t laughing.
Jerry and Larry slunk from their yellow New York cab and ducked into Tom’s Restaurant. Outside traffic edged noisily along Broadway and college kids from nearby Columbia University stood in loose groups discussing incredibly important topics.
Inside, ensconced in a fake leather booth that smelled like chicken salad, the two comedians were downcast and overdressed. Suits made them uncomfortable. And by suits they meant the network executives that had gathered around them like carrion birds in their wood and leather lined board room at NBC headquarters.
“Well, they said they liked it. In general. They said it’s smart and different.” Larry was trying not to allow their enthusiasm to be curbed.
“Smart and different? What, like Rain Man?”
“No, not that smart. Good movie though. Had some funny moments.”
“But they also said it is a little too New York, and a little too ethnic.”
“No, our pilot.”
“Ouch” said Larry nodding. “Not good.” Audiences who screened the pilot asked for funnier sketches from a more diverse cast. Dejected, the pair of New York humorists were dismissed to reconsider their situation comedy about a standup comic who found inspiration in the lunacy of his friends and family.
“No, it could have been worse,” said Jerry. “He could have actually killed us instead of just ending our professional lives. So, there’s that.”
The waitress came and chased away their banter, mumbling something that might have been a question. When they looked confused, she pointed to the pitcher of coffee she carried and they nodded.
“Soft talker,” Larry noted when she’d gone.
“You see her hands?” Jerry asked.
“No, I was busy figuring out how to drown myself in a pitcher of coffee. Or poison myself licking envelopes. Why?”
“Man hands. Hands of a man.”
They drank coffee for a bit in silence.
“Does that look like Keith Hernandez to you?” Larry asked.
“From the Mets? The guy at the counter in that puffy pirate shirt? Couldn’t be.”
“No, I guess not...Got any script ideas?”
Jerry sighed. “One, but it is for later. After we’ve established the neurotic who lives with his parents as completely pathetic, we do an episode where he pitches a sitcom. It doesn’t go well and he winds up in therapy. Again.”
“I don’t like it.” Larry said shaking his head.
“What’s the deal with that? Why not?”
“Too New York. Too ethnic.” Larry was grinning.
Jerry threw up his hands. “Serenity… serenity now!”
But serenity remained elusive for Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, co-creators of The Seinfeld Chronicles. Months of rework by NBC writers and executives kept them busy. In the end, Seinfeld (the show) dropped the Chronicles. Seinfeld (the character) kept George and Kramer from the pilot and added an ex-girlfriend who was rhythmically deficient, named Elaine. The plots were simple, exploring mundane aspect of life that everyone related to like waiting in line, looking for a parking place or what to do with the remaining chip after you’ve dipped and taken a bite. And the characters never learned anything from their misadventures. Everyone remained indifferent and sometimes callous, never seeming to grow or become a better person. It was so close to real life that diverse audiences not hailing from New York still fell in love with it.
By the fourth season, the duo could pay homage to their creative beginnings in a show titled The Pitch. It aired on September 16th, 1992 and featured George telling the NBC executives that he and Jerry had created a show “about nothing”, with no plot and no story lines. While an unconventional approach, George remained defiant when the suits balked. “Look, if you want to just keep on doing the same old thing, then maybe this idea is not for you.” George, who never learned from his mistakes, ruined their future in television.
I was reminded again of Seinfeld this September, by a CNBC article calling the recent rise in stocks a bull market “about nothing.” Market researcher Ed Yardeni notes: “investors are watching for something to happen. When nothing happens, especially nothing bad, investors are bemused and show their appreciation by throwing more money at the bull.” In other words, we are doing the same old thing, though we should be more defiant. Seinfeld was different and smart. Comparing Seinfeld to the stock market is different and wrong.
There are at least two major factors contributing to the ongoing bull market:
1) Overall wealth is rising. Average household debt service is lower than it was in 1980 and the savings rate, at 3.6%in August, has trended upward since the financial crisis. More money saved means more demand for financial instruments, a key driver of stock and bond markets in recent years.
2) Corporate earnings are up too. They rebounded strongly in 2017 and are forecast to continue their upward trend. Increasing earnings make stocks more valuable. Even those of us not living in New York should realize that.
Pardon me for not being a soft talker on this topic, but I don’t want someone who hasn’t learned from previous mistakes to ruin your future. This bull market, however many seasons it lasts, isn’t about nothing.
Note: You can review the original History Lessons about Seinfeld at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/history-lessons-nothing-patrick-huey-cfp-/
Links to Sources:
3. JPMorgan Asset Management. Guide to the Markets, 3Q 2017 as of August 31st 2017. Slides 7 & 19.