For revving up web programming—and online advertising.
Jerry Seinfeld's high-concept web show chronicles him picking up various comedians (Chris Rock, SarahSilverman, Howard Stern) in notable, old automobiles (a 1969 Lamborghini Miura, a 1959 Fiat 600 Jolly) and engaging them in amusing banter over delicious caffeinated beverages. But it is viewers who are feeling the rush. Since it debuted in 2012, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, as it's aptly titled, has become a hit for Sony's digital-only Crackle network, racking up more than 35 million views as it has grown into a web phenomenon. And Seinfeld isn't just the host. Starting with season 3, which premiered in January, he has also been the driving force (along with Men in Black director Barry Sonnenfeld) behind the unusually entertaining Acura ads that frame each episode. Here, he shows us what's under the hood.
Fast Company: You could work on anything you wanted. Why this?
Seinfeld: The only thing that appeals to me is being shot into an unknown universe. If I were to walk into a major network and say, "I have an idea for a TV series," no matter what the idea is, so much has already been decided before I even walk in that door. We know it's going to be 21 minutes and 45 seconds. We know how we're going to promote it. We know too much. The most fun game is one you've never played and you're inventing as you go along.
Why create your own Acura ads for the show?
I kind of like advertising, and did some in the '90s for American Express. It just seems like the Internet is screaming at artists to be creative. It's like an art-supply store: You walk in, and there's paper and cameras and paint and pencils. It's like someone throwing down the gauntlet.
How do you put the ads together? Do you crank them out while watching the Mets game?
When I'm watching the Mets game I don't do anything else: I'm watching the game. But when the ads come on I get nauseous. It's just horrible. To me, car advertising was another venue that was suffocating from a lack of creativity.
How did you tackle that?
By making bad ads on purpose [laughs]. The premise was, we transport a 2014 Acura back to an incompetent ad agency in 1965. A lot of the verbiage in there is real stuff from the '60s. I mean, "out to impress" was a very common phrase in the '60s in advertising. Nobody talks like that anymore, but in the '60s that's how they talked about cars. "We're out to impress."
In the Tina Fey episode, you asked what she would love to be doing in a year. I'm going to ask you the same question.
Acura and I have just made a new deal to make more shows [season 4 premieres later this year] and commercials. I was intending to make 10 [episodes], just as a thing to do. Now people really want to be on the show. In the beginning I had to explain to them what it was.
But now it feels timely.
I don't think I could've done it even a year or two before I did. You had to have this thing where everybody's walking around with TVs in their pocket. People expect things on the Internet to be very personal. I went through a period a couple of years ago where I was obsessed with Timberland. I started looking up videos that people make of themselves unboxing new Timberland boots.
I don't want to use sexual terminology, but there's something pornographic about it. It's the sound of the paper, the lacing up of the boots, the boot on the wood floor, the squeak sound. I love these videos. That very personal microniche that the Internet world created—it's like a honeycomb with millions of hexagonal cells, and you're just interested in four. That seemed like a fun place to play. "I like taking videos of coffee and cars and comedians. Maybe I could weave them into something." It's not really a show. I used to say it's an antishow about a nonevent.
And you don't say that anymore?
No, it still is. [Laughs]
A version of this article appeared in the June 2014 issue of Fast Company magazine.