The ‘Seinfeld’ Cast Demanded $1 Million Per Episode to Make Up For Royalties They Were Denied
Many people associated with Seinfeld made millions, but those earnings are far from equal. Between the creators, the cast, and the crew, the show made “its own financial empire,” according to Vulture. Over the decades, its amassed more than $3.1 billion.
By the end of Seinfeld, Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), George (Jason Alexander), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and Kramer (Michael Richards) were earning a whopping $1 million per episode. But this astronomical sum pales in comparison to how much the creators, Seinfeld and Larry David, made over time.
It seems strange to call $1 million a pittance, but that’s precisely how some castmates see it in light of what happened next.
‘Seinfeld’ became a huge success
It’s funny to think about it now. But back when Seinfeld debuted, it wasn’t instantly embraced by audiences. The pilot episode was strange and confusing, leading to low ratings and almost getting the series canceled before it could begin.
“It was probably the lowest-testing pilot in the history of NBC,” Kevin Reilly, a development executive at NBC who later became network president, told Business Insider.
Luckily, the network gave Seinfeld another shot and it paid off, bigtime. The show became a ratings sensation and the most popular comedy on television in no time.
The cast demanded huge salaries to make up for getting less money later
By the end of Seinfeld, all four main castmates were bringing home $1 million per episode. But Alexander insists he’d have preferred to get “back-end” participation rather than asking for such astronomical salaries.
“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 told The Globe and Mail.
He continued, “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.”
Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David make huge profits from ‘Seinfeld’
While Alexander, Richards, and Louis-Dreyfus make very small residual income from Seinfeld reruns, the show’s two co-creators can’t say the same.
Seinfeld has an estimated net worth of $950 million, much of which came from syndication payments.
“As one of the show’s creators, [Seinfeld] gets a cut of the show’s lucrative and ongoing syndication deals,” CNBC reported. Those lucrative deals “are estimated to have brought in over $3 billion since 1995,” they wrote in 2015. “Seinfeld’s cut comes to about a whopping $400 million over that time period.”
Is it fair? Well, depends on who you ask. Seinfeld and David came up with the idea for the show after wandering around New York City making fun of stuff. The comedian vehemently rejects the idea that Seinfeld was “a show about nothing.” And without him, it wouldn’t be a show at all.
The $1 million salaries did nothing to create equality among the show’s main players. But their fame in a post-Seinfeld world is undeniable, no matter how much they have in the bank.