Jews and Television

American Jewish University, Fall 2008

Professor Vincent Brook



Given the seminal and persistent influence of Jewish executive and creative personnel in U.S. television, one could argue that all American TV is, to some degree, Jewish. "Jews and Television" analyzes the ramifications of that assertion, looking at the wealth and range of Jewish representation behind and on the small(er) screen from the beginning of regular prime-time network programming in 1948 to the present so-called post-network era. Behind the screen, we will assess the shift from the Jewish founding fathers of early TV—David Sarnoff (NBC), William Paley (CBS), Leonard Goldenson (ABC)—to the Jewish multi-media moguls of today—Jeff Zucker (GE/NBC), Leslie Moonves (Viacom/CBS), Robert Iger (Disney/ABC), Rupert Murdoch (News Corp./FOX—yes, he’s Jewish!). In programming we will examine the evolution from the lovable 1950s sitcom The Goldbergs to the more recent dysfunctionality-coms Curb Your Enthusiasm and Arrested Development; from the Borscht Belt variety-show hosts Milton Berle and Sid Caesar to the stand-up sitcom stars Richard Lewis and Jerry Seinfeld; from the controversial 1970s intermarriage shows Bridget Loves Bernie and Rhoda to the less controversial 2000s intermarriage dramas Everwood and The O.C. Drawing on the book Something Ain’t Kosher Here: The Rise of the “Jewish” Sitcom and other readings, some of the main questions the course will address are: How and why did Jews became so prominent in the TV and entertainment fields to begin with? Why did it take until the late 1980s for Jews to “come out” on TV in such large numbers? What is the significance of this representational paradigm shift for Jews and American society as a whole?



Vincent Brook, Something Ain’t Kosher Here: The Rise of the “Jewish” Sitcom

Course Reader, available from Mozena Publishing (,, 800-444-8398)



Joyce Antler, ed., Talking Back: Images of Jewish Women in Popular American Culture

Vincent Brook, ed., You Should See Yourself: Jewish Identity in Postmodern American        Culture

Leonard Dinnerstein, Anti-Semitism in America

Lawrence J. Epstein, The Haunted Smile: The History of Jewish Comedians in America

Partricia Erens: The Jew in American Cinema

Lester D. Friedman, The Jewish Image in American Film

Neal Gabler: An Emprie of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood

Shelley Hornstein and Florence Jacobowitz, ed., Image and Remembrance: Representation and the Holocaust
J. Hoberman and Jeffrey Shandler, Entertaining America: Jews, Movies, and Broadcasting

Annette Insdorf: Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust

Jonathan Pearl and Judith Pearl, The Chosen Image: Television’s Portrayal of Jewish Themes and Characters

Jon Stratton, Coming Out Jewish

Stephen J. Whitfield, In Search of American Jewish Culture





Term Paper: 30%

Midterm Exam: 30%

Final Exam: 30%

Participation: 10%



97-100% = A+, 93-96% = A, 90-92% = A-, 87-89% = B+, etc.


*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *



(Readings and screenings are subject to change;

Clips rather than entire films and TV shows are often shown)


Week 1: Sept. 1/3



Class 1B: Genesis (of American Jewish Entertainment)

A brief look at how Jewish involvement in vaudeville, theater, the movies, popular music, and radio laid the basis for their involvement in American television.

Reading: None

Screening: Hollywood: An Empire of Their Own (documentary)


Week 2: Sept. 8/10

Class 2A: Genesis (Cont’d)

The American Jewish Ur-text and its Implications

Reading: Hoberman, Slobin (CR)

Screening: The Jazz Singer (1927) (Part 1)


Class 2B: Genesis (Cont’d)

Ur-Text, cont’d

Reading: Rosenberg (CR)

The Jazz Singer (1927) (Part 2)


Week 3: Sept. 15/17

Class 3A: From Great Retreat to Philo-Semitism

The first U.S. films about Anti-Semitism

Reading: Erens (CR)

Screening: Gentleman’s Agreement documentary


Class 3B: TV - The Early Years

“Jewish” shows contribute to TV’s first “Golden Age”

 Reading: Erens (CR)

Screening: Texaco Star Theater, Your Show of Shows


Week 4: Sept. 22/24

Class 4A: TV’s Early Years (Cont’d)

Anthology Dramas and De-Judaization

Reading: Brook, Ch. 1

Screening: Marty


Class 4B: Domestic Sitcoms and De-Semitization

Ethnic working-class to White suburban middle-class sitcom

Reading: Brook, Ch. 2

Screening: The Goldbergs, Father Knows Best


Week 5: Sept. 29/Oct. 1





Week 6: Oct. 6/8

Class 6A: “Relevance” and “Quality”

TV industry paradigm shift encourages “Jewish” TV revival

Reading: Brook, Ch. 3

Screening: Bridget Loves Bernie, Rhoda




Week 7: Oct. 13/15

Class 7A: NO CLASS – SUKKOT !?




Week 8: Oct. 20/22

Class 8A: The Holocaust and TV

The Roots phenomenon spurs Jewish mini-series

Reading: Insdorf (CR)

Screening: Hollywood and the Holocaust, Part 1


Class 8B: NO CLASS



Week 9: Oct. 27/29

Class 9A: The Holocaust and TV (Cont’d)

Reading: Insdorf (CR)

Screening: Hollywood and the Holocaust, Part 2


Class 9B: The “Jewish” Sitcom Trend

Why a sudden wave of explicitly identified TV Jews?

Readings: Brook, Ch. 4

Screening: Brooklyn Bridge



Week 10: Nov. 3/5

Class 10A: “Jewish” Sitcom Trend, Phase 2

Under the sign of Seinfeld

Reading: Brook, Chs. 5, 6

Screening: Friends



Class 10B: Phase 2 (Cont’d)

Un-“Dresch”-ing the Jewish Princess

Reading: Brook, Ch. 7

Screening: The Nanny


Week 11: Nov. 10/12

Class 11A: NO CLASS




Class 11B: NO CLASS




Week 12: Nov. 17/19

Class 12A: Jewish Self-Hatred

The history and psychology of Jewish self-hatred

Reading: Brook 1 (CR)

Screening: The Believer, The Larry Sanders Show


Class 12B: Jewish Self-Hatred (Cont’d)

(More) postmodern renderings of Jewish self-hatred

Reading: Brook 1 (CR)

Screening: Curb Your Enthusiasm


Week 13: Nov. 26/28

Class 13A: We’re Not in the Bronx Anymore

Is Larry David “good for the Jews”?

Reading: Byers/Krieger (CR)

Screening: Curb Your Enthusiasm


Class 13B: We’re Not in the Bronx Anymore (Cont’d)

Is Arrested Development “good for the Jews”?

Reading: Byers/Krieger (CR)

Screening: Arrested Development


Week 14: Dec. 1/3

Class 14A: “Jewish TV” Trend: Phase 4

Intermarriage Dramas: Everwood.

Reading: Brook 2 (CR)

Screening: Everwood



Class 14B: Phase 4, Cont’d

Intermarriage Dramas: The O.C.

Reading: Brook 2 (CR)

Screening: The O.C



Week 15: Dec. 8/10

Class 15A: The Borat Question

Is Sacha Baran Cohen “good for the Jews”

Reading: None

Screening: Da Ali G Show, Borat


Class 15B:



Due Monday of the 10th week. Send an email stating the TV show you will be analyzing and the theoretical frame you will be using for your analysis (see Term Paper Guidelines below). Any other ideas or questions you have about the paper are also welcome.




I. Due: Monday of the 14th week.

II. Length: 7 pages minimum (typed, double-spaced, 12-point font (Times New Roman),    1-inch margins)

III. Topic:

   A. Expand on one of the class topics—assimilation, intermarriage, anti-Semitism, self-hatred, the Holocaust, etc.—analyzing the topic in relation to a television show.

    B. Incorporate assigned readings on the topic, as well as at least two outside academic sources. Additional sources are encouraged.

    C. Provide historical context for the topic and the TV show.

     D. Include a close reading, or textual analysis, of the TV episode.

IV. Method:

      A. Title Page:

                            1. Title of essay, with main title and subtitle. The TV show’s title should      appear in the main or subtitle, and puns are encouraged, e.g.:


Pay Per Jew:

Jewish Self-Hatred in It’s Like, You Know…


                            2. Name; course number; term.

        B. Introduction:

                          1. State your topic, and what TV show you’ll use to examine it.

                          2. State what you hope to demonstrate about the topic through the analysis of the TV show.

                          3. In identifying the TV show, give the years of the original run in parentheses; e.g., Seinfeld (1989-1998).

        C. Body:

                            1. Proceed with your analysis, providing explanatory material and historical context for the topic and the TV show.

                          2. Incorporate your readings in a way that furthers your argument.

                          3. As much as possible, but only with secure understanding, use technical terms derived from lecture and readings.

                            4. Try to stick to your thesis. Extraneous information should be edited out or relegated to content footnotes.

                            5. All research sources must be cited, whether drawn on indirectly or quoted directly, using one of the approved citation methods (MLA, CMS,      APA).


       D. Conclusion:

                            1. Summarize your findings, avoiding redundancy.

                            2. End with a strong statement that gives a clear sense of what you have       tried to show.

        E. Notes or Works Cited page

V. Additional Pointers:

        A. Make sure to number your pages!

        B. Underline or put in italics all titles (TV shows, films, books, etc.).

        C.  When referring to individuals, give the full name the first time they are mentioned, thereafter only the second name: e.g., “Neil Gabler makes a provocative argument regarding Jewish influence on the film industry in An Empire of Their Own. Gabler’s analysis is flawed, however, for the following reasons.”      

         D. When describing film/TV show content, use the present tense: e.g., “In Seinfeld, George Costanza appears to be Jewish but is identified within the text as non-Jewish.”

         E. To indicate films’/shows’ historical relations, however, use the past tense: e.g., “Seinfeld was the most successful sitcom of the 1990s, both from a ratings and a critical standpoint.”

         F. No plot summaries! Do include story information, but only enough to give the overall idea of the film/show and to support the thematic points of your paper, not as “padding.”

         G. No plagiarism! This will result in an automatic Fail for the assignment and, depending on the egregiousness of the infraction, possibly for the class as well.

         H. Enjoy!