‘Seinfeld’: Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David Get ‘Lion’s Share of Royalties’ Compared to Costars, Report Finds
It’s always awkward to talk about money between coworkers. And in Hollywood with millions of dollars at stake, those conversations can cause some serious rifts. That’s exactly what happened with the cast of Seinfeld once everyone figured out who was profiting on the massively successful NBC sitcom.
The series both directly and indirectly contributed to the wealth of co-creators Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld plus actors Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Michael Richards. However, the overall profit distribution isn’t anywhere close to equal, which resulted in some bad blood and overall awkwardness.
‘Seinfeld’ was a surprise success
In retrospect, it’s easy to see how Seinfeld became one of the most popular and iconic television sitcoms in history. However, the concept of the show was completely new and untested at the time. There was no guarantee it was going to work.
David and Seinfeld came up with the idea of a semi-autobiographical series based on conversations they had in real life. The sitcom would loosely replicate Seinfeld’s stand up, but with a darker twist. Two of the most important rules that writers followed on the show were “no hugging” and “no learning.”
Just like that, a “show about nothing” captured the nation’s attention and became one of the most-watched shows on television.
Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld made huge profits thanks to royalties
Their stake in the overall life of the show meant that David and Seinfeld would make hundreds of millions of dollars in profits even decades after the final season of the comedy aired. This financial reality of the co-creators earning the “lion’s share of the profits” led to bitterness from other hard-working actors on set.
“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 (George Costanza) said, according to The Globe and Mail.
“It was categorically denied to us, which forced us to then ask for ungodly salaries,” he continued. “We make very little, standard Screen Actors Guild residuals for the reruns.”
The 3 castmates demanded higher salaries during season 9
Because they were denied royalties, Alexander, Louis-Dreyfus, and Richards insisted on having higher salaries during the final season of the show. But that $1 million per episode demand didn’t come close to equaling what they would have gotten with residual income in perpetuity.
Alexander said, “We made a deal that was acceptable to us. We got paid very handsomely for our final season. It was in the pool of profit for NBC to give us those salaries.”
However, it didn’t ever feel like enough.
Alexander continued, “I’m not ashamed to talk numbers. I would say in the years that we’ve been in syndication, Julia, Michael, and I have probably individually seen about a quarter of a million dollars out of residuals, whereas our brethren have seen hundreds of millions of dollars. Seinfeld has a profit of over a billion dollars.”
It wasn’t a perfect solution, but at least it was better than getting nothing. Seinfeld has raked in over $400 million per syndication cycle thanks to royalty payments.