From 1989 through 2002 there was an unprecedented surge in American sitcoms featuring explicitly, Jewish lead characters, 32 compared to seven in the previous 40 years. Several of these ""Mad About You"", ""The Nanny"" and ""Friends"" - were among the most popular and influential of all shows over this period; one programme - ""Seinfeld"" - has been singled out as the ""defining"" series of the 90s. In addition, scriptwriters have increasingly created ""Jewish"" characters, although they may not be perceived to be by the show's audience. Rachel Green on ""Friends"" being only one example. Here, Vincent Brook asks two key questions: why has this trend appeared at this particular historical moment and what is the significance of this phenomenon for Jews and non-Jews alike? He takes readers through three key phases of the Jewish sitcom trend: the early years of televisions before and after the first Jewish sitcom, ""The Goldbergs"", appeared; the second phase in which America found itself ""Under the Sign of Seinfeld""; and the current era of what Brook calls ""post-Jewishness"". Interviews with key writers, producers and showrunners such as David Kohan (""Will and Grace""), Marta Kauffman (""Friends"" and ""Dream On""), Bill Prady (Dharma and Greg""), Peter Mehlman and Carol Leifer (""Seinfeld""),and close readings of individual episodes and series provoke the conclusion that we have entered uncharted ""post-Jewish"" territory. The rise of the Jewish sitcom represents a broader struggle in which American Jews and the TV industry, if not American society as a whole, are increasingly operating at cross-purposes - torn between the desire to celebrate unique ethnic identities, yet to assimilate; to assert independence, yet also to build a consensus to appeal to the widest possible audience.
Vincent Brook is an adjunct professor in film and television at California State University and Pierce College in Los Angeles. He has also worked as a film editor and screenwriter and has published a number of articles in noted film journals.