At the end of January, the “AI-generated Seinfeld” show Nothing, Forever launched on Twitch. Within days of it launching, thousands of people were watching it live, creating a meta commentary around the show that abruptly ended when a technical failure led the team to turn to a “fallback system” that didn’t have content moderation, and the show’s star, Larry Feinberg, told a transphobic joke and got the show temporarily banned from Twitch (whew).
Nothing, Forever eventually got unbanned and spun back up for Season 2, which started in March. When the show came back, it was with an entirely new cast of characters who were clearly designed to not be parodies of Seinfeld. Feinberg, for example, was replaced with Leo Borges, a man who starts each episode by writing in his blog (relatable!) instead of doing a standup routine.
I forgot entirely about Nothing, Forever for a few months, but had joined its Discord when the show launched. I was checking it the other day, and was surprised to see that its fanbase was angry in a very specific, familiar way. They were mad that the show had jumped the shark, and that the show they fell in love with had completely changed:
Fans in that Discord have worked to bring back the “original” AI Seinfeld, and for a while, the original Seinfeld AI was streaming unofficially in a Discord chat. But the official show itself has continued endlessly streaming, 24/7 for months on end. I caught up with creators Brian Habersberger and Skyler Hartle of Mismatch Media to learn what’s been happening with the show after its fame, hear their thoughts on the writers strike, and learn how they feel about certain parts of their fanbase turning on them.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
404 Media: Nothing, Forever was a phenomenon right away. And now it's not a phenomenon, it’s just kind of still going. What’s the current state of the project?
Brian Habersberger: We weren't designing it to be a wild phenomenon that, you know, got the attention that it got. It was intended to be a longform innovative media project spoofing the idea of sitcoms, especially an older style of sitcom like in the 90s, that doesn't really go anywhere or have any character growth or development. We figured it would be sort of a slow growth, and a slow change kind of a project as opposed to this wild phenomenon. But I think, you know, the stars were aligned, as far as you know, the attention that ChatGPT got when it had the sort of public launch late last year. Already at the time there was discussion of a potential writers strike, just there's more attention on AI writing and AI media projects. So, we accidentally struck while the iron was hot, somewhat unintentionally.
That's a really good point about the writers strike. What are your current thoughts on the state of AI writing? And I know you didn't create Nothing, Forever to replace human writers. It's like an exploration of what a show like this could be, but in some ways you sort of were ahead of the debate.
Habersberger: I think the experience of going to something like Chat GPT and saying ‘Please write me a script’ and getting out complete garbage is a lot of people's experience. There's an art to it and to some extent a science of getting these systems to do what you want them to do. The technology is not replacing humans, it's sort of augmenting and facilitating creativity more so than it's replacing creativity. You need creativity in the prompt in the way that you sort of draw whatever writing or content you want out of it.
I think a lot of traditional creators are scared of AI. And even if they're not individually scared of the technology, they're scared of what their peers will think, if they go into this space that has sort of been a hot button space. They’re concerned about being perceived as going to the dark side, if they dabble in AI art. I don't like that train of thought. I don't like that conversation. I understand where people are coming from, they're scared. But I think it's a tool for enabling human creativity. And you know, what's the worst that can happen if you try and make something cool? We couldn't produce an autonomous 24/7 creative project without these tools. But the project also didn't produce itself.
Who is watching now? When it first launched, I started watching it, and I was like, ‘Ha, this is kind of interesting,’ and I watched it for like five minutes. Then I came back the next day and watched for longer because of the meta commentary around the show and chat was going off. And it kind of held my attention. The community had created this lore in the 24-36 hours it’d been online. Now there’s nine months of that.
Skyler Hartle: At any given time, we have around 30 to 70 concurrent viewers. But we also know that there are these contingents of people who consume media from kind of a passive perspective, just in their everyday lives, like they just like having something on. And then there's also the ones who keep it on while they're sleeping. And we've heard this from numerous places that people actually listen to shows like these, while they're sleeping at night as kind of a passive background thing.
I want to read you something that someone said on your Discord. It’s mean, I’m sorry. But it’s the reason I wanted to reach out to you in the first place, because I think it’s exactly how real people are about real TV shows. This was yesterday, someone said: ‘I can't believe I waited a whole month for this to come back. I get the channel was originally banned for two weeks. But this is horrible. This doesn't have the charm of the original at all. Completely soulless and lifeless. I can't believe this is how it turned out. It's already dead.’
Have you seen much of that sort of sentiment and people nostalgic for the beginning? And have you thought about how this mirrors people who are like, ‘This show jumped the shark. The writing isn't as good as it was in an early season.’ This is exactly how people talk about real TV shows.
Habersberger: Definitely agree. And, you know, it wasn't something we anticipated. But all the characters changed and the entire cast of the show changed. I can't tell you why we changed the characters, unfortunately.
The show is meant to be absurd in a certain sense. But to a lot of people, yeah, we murdered these characters, and we didn’t even give them a funeral. You know, these are characters that people had formed some relationship with, they were writing Wikipedia articles about all the former wives and all the different jobs a character has had, and then all that character isn’t even acknowledged to have existed all of the sudden. It's interesting that that type of relationship can be formed so quickly, on such a sort of absurd media project.
I'm glad you see it that way, because it’s interesting to see people reacting this way, in the same way they do to other pieces of art. I don’t see that as a bad thing that some people are like, ‘I used to like this, but I hate it now.’
Hartle: I spent a lot of time in the Discord community, especially in the early days. And it wasn't like tens of people who were kind of glomming on to this, it was like, hundreds, with hundreds of images of fan art, and people talking about how much they love these individual characters and formed these relationships with them. I think there was something about the juxtaposition of AI with, like parody characters that kind of have an existing canon, but extending upon that canon with this emergent AI gave it this emotional base for people to breathe new life into it.
Y'all are the creators of this thing. It's been on essentially 24/7 and has been for months. Do you have any idea what's going on in the show? How do you personally keep up with it, because it’s impossible to watch all of it.
Habersberger: The way that the writing is structured is we sort of define who the characters are and who their personalities are. And to some extent, what their relationships are. And then we don't have a lot of say over events that unfold in their lives. We don't poke the creature too much to get it to do something that we want it to do, we kind of let it live the life that it's living, if you can call it that, we have a relatively hands off approach, we do make some tweaks and adjustments.
Hartle: There's no true keeping up with it other than consuming it when you can and letting it wash over you. But then a day later, you know, the entire thing is going to change. And we do have the notion of continuity, and we can play with how continuous like storylines are. But there's no way to know what's going on in these characters’ lives at all times, because it's constantly changing.