NEW YORK — Jerry Seinfeld is returning to NBC as producer of a comic reality series where celebrities and a referee try to help squabbling couples make peace.
That's the good news for Seinfeld's fans.
The bad news? Seinfeld said he has no plans to step in front of the cameras for "The Marriage Ref" or, for that matter, to ever star in a television series again.
"It's a young man's game," said Seinfeld, 54. "Nothing could surpass the experience I had."
That would be "Seinfeld," of course, the sitcom that ended its nine-year run in 1998, a big part of NBC's golden era. The fourth-place network has since fallen on hard times, and jumped at the chance to welcome back one of its top names.
The idea came from personal experience.
Seinfeld and his wife, Jessica, were arguing one day _ he doesn't remember the topic _ while a friend was visiting. The friend became uncomfortable and wondered if she should leave.
"I said, `You know what, I need some help to settle this right here. I need a marriage ref,'" he said, and the friend obliged.
Seinfeld helped develop the idea with a friend, Ellen Rakieten, who had just left Oprah Winfrey's production company after working there for 23 years.
She brought the problem-solving experience and Seinfeld added the comic sensibility. They don't intend to delve into serious stuff, but smaller things like leaving the bathroom messy. Even, perhaps, about nothing, really.
"I've been married for nine years," Seinfeld said in a phone interview. "One of my favorite things is talking to guys about their marriage. It's so funny because it's not your problem."
Indeed, Rakieten said, "we all fight about the same stuff. When you can look at it in a funny way and realize you're not alone, it takes some of the edge off it."
The hour-long episodes will introduce the couples through filmed reports and show them fighting. A panel of celebrity guests will weigh in to offer advice and observations before the final arbiter, a "ref" who hasn't been selected yet, will settle things.
Being right may not always be the deciding factor, either. The ref will penalize people for fighting dirty, for instance, Rakieten said. Eye-rolling is a technical foul.
Seinfeld and Rakieten flew to California to pitch the idea to Ben Silverman, NBC entertainment chief, 10 days ago and it was accepted right away. "We barely let him leave the building," Silverman said.
Asked when he expected to get the series on the air, Silverman said, "I'd love for tomorrow." They're hoping for next season, but nothing is certain. NBC made an initial commitment of ordering six episodes.
The element of continuity with one of its biggest stars historically is important for NBC, Silverman said. He said he likes the idea that "Seinfeld" was an exploration of the star's single life while "The Marriage Ref" is a reflection of Seinfeld's current comedy about married life.
All of Seinfeld's sitcom co-stars have tried new TV shows since "Seinfeld" ended, with varying degrees of success. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has been the most successful, on CBS' "The New Adventures of Old Christine."
Seinfeld, who has three children, said that with his family and standup comedy career, he didn't want to make the time commitment to act in another TV series.
NBC is owned by General Electric Co. CBS is a division of CBS Corp.