NBC Reaches for New ‘Heights’

By Nathaniel Popper

Published October 21, 2005, issue of October 21, 2005.

The “Seinfeld” coffee shop has long reigned as the symbol New York Jews on television. But soon a classroom at The Jewish Theological Seminary may replace it. The NBC television network is developing a new half-hour situation comedy about seminarians in New York, written by the husband of a Los Angeles rabbi.

The show is titled “Morningside Heights,” after the New York neighborhood where The Jewish Theological Seminary and Union Theological Seminary have their campuses across the street from each other.

David Light, the show’s creator, is a onetime Camp Ramah camper and an observant Jew. His wife, Sharon Brous, is the rabbi of a thriving young congregation in Los Angeles known as Ikar. Brous was ordained by The Jewish Theological Seminary, Conservative Judaism’s flagship institution. In real life, students at the seminary share dorms and some classes with the students at Union Theological Seminary, a nondenominational Christian institution.

Light, who himself considered a career in the rabbinate, opted instead for a career in comedy and television writing. Though he has done some writing for television, this is the first show he has created. “Morningside Heights” is being produced by Big Cattle Productions, a company founded by Eric McCormack (Will of “Will & Grace”).

Observant Jews never have been a regular sight on television. Cultural critic Andrew Heinze, a professor at the University of San Francisco, argued that even in recent years the portrayal of rabbis has been marked by reluctance and ambivalence. He pointed to the rabbis on “Seinfeld” and on Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” In both shows they came across as little more than “window-dressing for a once-religious civilization.” But with the religious revival of the past two decades, Heinze said, young writers are much less likely to see “rabbis as weird throwbacks.”

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