How Jerry Seinfeld Cost His ‘Seinfeld’ Co-stars a Bigger Payday on the Show
Seinfeld has been an incredibly lucrative sitcom — at least if you’re Jerry Seinfeld. Much of the comedian’s net worth came from his stint as the star of the show. And even Seinfeld reruns have brought in billions of dollars. It makes sense that Jerry Seinfeld made more money than his Seinfeld co-stars when they were taping the show. After all, he helped create the show, and it’s named after him.
But a decision that Seinfeld made reportedly cost his co-stars the chance to earn more lucrative payouts once the show finished. Here’s what happened.
Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David created the show
Rolling Stone reports that Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld came up with the concept for “the show about nothing” when they were in a grocery store. David recalls, “We were in a grocery store and talking about the different products on the shelves. And we were making each other laugh. Then we both realized that this is the kind of dialogue we never really heard on television, or even movies, for that matter.”
David added, “The premise of the show was going to be ‘how a comedian gets his material.’ So, we would follow Jerry around throughout his day or week, and whatever he experienced in the episode, he would do a stand-up routine about it at the end.”
The pilot only had three main characters
David also told Rolling Stone that when they first tested the show, Seinfeld didn’t have its iconic cast of four protagonists. “The pilot actually only had three,” David noted. “There was going to be a cast of four, and the woman was going to be a waitress. And when the series got picked up, we changed the waitress to Elaine.” The reason they changed it may have to do with the fact that people who saw the pilot didn’t think it was funny.
As Business Insider learned, Seinfeld ranked among the lowest-testing pilots in NBC history. NBC started the show with a four-episode order. It would go on to air on NBC from 1989 to 1998, with Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, and Michael Richards as its stars.
Jerry Seinfeld always made a higher salary than his Seinfeld co-stars
Jerry Seinfeld was one of Seinfeld‘s creators. And as the sitcom’s central character, he had many more lines in each episode than any of his co-stars. Seinfeld made a lot more than his co-stars — but they were all making a lot of money each season. CNBC reports that by the ninth season, Seinfeld was pulling in about $1 million for each episode. And his Seinfeld co-stars were each earning about $600,000 per episode.
CNBC analyzed how many lines each of the four Seinfeld co-stars delivered on an average episode of the show. Then, it calculated how much the actors got paid for each line. “Jerry Seinfeld made about $13,000 for each line he delivered,” CNBC notes. “Michael Richards (Kramer), who delivered the least lines but was paid the same as the other two supporting characters, made almost $15,000 per line, while Jason Alexander (George) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine) made about $11,000 and $13,000, respectively.”
Seinfeld also gets a lot more from the show’s syndication deals
CNBC reports that thanks to his stake in the show, Seinfeld has a source of income that others on the Seinfeld cast don’t. “As one of the show’s creators, he gets a cut of the show’s lucrative and ongoing syndication deals,” CNBC explains. Those deals “are estimated to have brought in over $3 billion since 1995,” CNBC explains. “Seinfeld’s cut comes to about a whopping $400 million over that time period,” the publication noted back in 2015.
Seinfeld’s co-stars also made a push to get a larger share of the show’s $200 million in profit each season, CNBC reports. But they didn’t get what they wanted. The International Business Times reports that “The three co-stars receive SAG-AFTRA residuals and a cut of DVD sales.” But the publication notes, “Those cuts don’t come close to the estimated $400 million per year that Seinfeld and David will earn from the latest syndication deal.”
The Seinfeld co-stars don’t get any royalties
The Globe and Mail reports that Seinfeld’s three co-stars get no share of the royalties currently generated by the sitcom. The paper learned from Jason Alexander that the three “decided to get tough” during negotiations for the final season in 1997. Alexander, Louis-Dreyfus, and Richards “told NBC Entertainment chief Warren Littlefield that Jerry Seinfeld’s decision to cut them out of the show’s massive royalties had created an unacceptable gap between the actors.”
Alexander told The Globe and Mail that what they really wanted was a share in royalties. But they couldn’t convince NBC — nor Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, presumably. “Julia, Michael and I, during our big renegotiation for the final year, asked for something that I will go to my grave saying we should have had, and that is back-end participation in the profits for the show.”
Alexander explained the outcome, “It was categorically denied to us, which forced us to then ask for ungodly salaries. We make very little, standard Screen Actors Guild residuals for the reruns.” They asked for — and received — salaries of $1 million each per episode to make up for the paltry payouts they’d get once the show ended.
He turned down the opportunity to make another season
Jerry Seinfeld also turned down the opportunity to make a tenth season of Seinfeld. That meant turning down more than $100 million himself — $5 million per episode — as well as shutting down the opportunity for his co-stars to continue making sky-high salaries for another season.
But we also don’t know whether the Seinfeld co-stars, denied the opportunity to benefit financially from the show once it ended, would really have wanted to stick around for another season. Jason Alexander told The Globe and Mail:
I said to Jerry when he made the decision years ago to not let us in, “The day will come when you regret this decision, only because it’s going to put us in a position eventually of seemingly tainting the wonderful impression of what this was for the four of us. You have created a rift between you and the three of us, and while we are in no way, shape or form looking for parity with you, you have created a chasm that is also inappropriate.”
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