Looking Through the Lens: Jewish Self-Portrayal on Television in Five Pivotal Series: The Goldbergs (1949-1956), Bridget Loves Bernie (1972-1973), Seinfeld (1989-1998), Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-2011), and Transparent (2014-Present) Open Access

Putman, Bailey Allyn (2017)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/ns064678w?locale=en


The original top three broadcast networks, NBC, CBS, and ABC, were all started and run by Jewish executives who, based on the Jewishness depicted in the only two shows with Jewish lead characters between 1949 and 1971, where hesitant to and concealed Jewishness on Television. The Jewishness within the Goldbergs (1949-1956) and Bridget Loves Bernie (1972-1973) appears as a simply stated premise within the diegesis of the story, often as cartoonish stereotypes or as a tangential reality left unexamined. While there is no evidence to demonstrate whether or not any overtly Jewish show would have survived this era, the networks felt their attempt and failure of Bridget Loves Bernie was enough to re-evaluate the exposure of Jewishness into the late 70s and 80s. From the cancellation of Rhoda in 1978 to the premiere of Thirtysomething on ABC in 1987, there was not a single leading Jewish character on prime time television. These network executives left such a legacy on broadcast television that even the creators of Seinfeld (1989-1998), which aired long after these executives left their desks, were not allowed to depict more than one Jewish character or too many Jewish themes. It was not until other distribution platforms emerged, like premium channels and digital platforms, that a more complex and multi-dimensional representation of Jewish identity was shown, one that was allowed to be questioned, challenged and changed. While Larry David played a major role in the writing of both Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-2011), Curb emerged with nowhere near the same lightness upon which Seinfeld thrives. Three Years after the last episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Transparent premiered on Amazon Video as a television show that embraces its Otherness as a narrative device with which to develop and explore topics more taboo than Jewishness on the small screen. This study will demonstrate that it was not until the creation of new and diverse television distribution platforms that Jewish identity began to emerge as a multi-dimensional piece of character and narrative development, despite the fact that Jews have always been leaders of the television industry.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter 1: The Case of The Goldbergs 10

Chapter 2: Bridget Loves Bernie, but America Does Not 23

Chapter 3: Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm 34

Chapter 4: Transparent: Making the Other Apparent 53

Conclusion: Final Thought 65

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