The End of 'Seinfeld'

Page 2 of 8

If you had done another season, what would you have done with the extra money?

Jerry Seinfeld: Given it away. I still give plenty away, but I would have had to have given away that entire thing. I mean, I'm not against a lavish lifestyle – don't get me wrong. It was just too much. I didn't need it, you know.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus: I don't know. Bought more T-bills. Just socked it away, truthfully.

Jason Alexander: That's mad money. Though I can tell you that, despite all the attention that our salaries have gotten, we were not satisfied with negotiations in any sense of the word. The million-dollar figure [the fee per episode that he, Richards and Louis-Dreyfus demanded for the final season; they settled for $600,000] was a very considered figure – it wasn't plucked out of a hat. Anyway, what I would have done is what I probably will do with most of this season's – bank it.

Michael Richards: Carl Reiner slipped up to me at some awards show – you know, his son Rob is part of the Castle Rock team, and we were sweating over negotiations, and we were asking for a lot of dough. And he slides up to me and goes, "Yeah, get it, get it, get it – it's all 'fuck you' money." I supposed I would have just stored it away in something where I could get some interest. I have enough now – I don't need any more.

Wednesday, April 1st
In the morning, they shoot outside on a studio lot. (There are trees. When you look closely, you see that they are dead wood, but that green plastic foliage is bound to the lifeless twigs.) The full cast is gathered. Michael Richards tends to stand apart from the others, rehearsing his lines and his body language. While everyone else is chatting and waiting around for a camera change. I watch him privately perform one scene to a wall.

Later, Richards walks up to me. It is our first meeting. "What's in your bag?" he asks. "Oranges?"

He has no reason on earth to suspect that I would have oranges in my bag. And I don't.

"What's this?" he says, reaching in and taking out a book. "Have you read anything that'd make a good movie? Read any comedies?" He looks at the book: the latest issue of the English literary magazine Granta. It's titled "The Sea." "I'm into the sea myself," he says. "I'm reading my way through Melville. I like to read the classics. I'm five books in, working my way to Moby-Dick." He leafs through my book and immediately finds a photograph of two elderly naked men on the Christopher Street pier in New York, one of them with his mouth buried in the other's groin. "One man blows another in the open in New York," he exclaims with glee. "There's hope for the world yet!"

This morning they take the official cast-and-crew photo from a crane. The four principals stand in front and hug. "Let's take a real cast photo!" Richards shouts. "Let's do it naked! We're approaching the millennium. We're all naked. You won't see that on Murphy Brown!"

"Everybody sing the theme," suggests Alexander and begins to sing it himself, though the idea doesn't catch on.

"It's too sad, man," says Seinfeld, though he is laughing as he says it.

Richards points out that he has just driven the Kramer-mobile for the last time.

Seinfeld nods. "Everything is a last," he says.

In the afternoon... no. I will tell you about the afternoon of April 1st later.

Larry David had made noises about leaving Seinfeld very early on. His logic was characteristically self-abasing. "I always want to leave, whatever I'm doing, because I think everything's better if I'm not there," he reasons. "Because I think, 'How could anything be good if I'm there?' Hence George Costanza." Seinfeld used to say they wouldn't do more than five seasons – an early totem of his determination to not let the series dribble on or dribble out. "I used to remind him of that," says David. But each deadline passed. At the end of year seven, amid reports of some bad blood, David left, but Seinfeld continued regardless. "I just wasn't ready," Seinfeld says.

Was it heartbreaking to know it would continue without you? I ask David.

"Yeah. It's like abandoning your child and now somebody else is raising it," he says.

"It's like the parents splitting up," says Seinfeld.

"We were like the parents, and they felt like they were the stepchildren."

But you got custody, I say to Seinfeld.

"Right. Right."

And now, after two years, you give him nine days' custody with the kid? And then you say you're killing him off?

"That's perfect. That's a perfect story for us."

David wrote a movie, Sour Grapes, which has just been released. He would still write down Seinfeld ideas – some of which are in the final episode, and some of which he may use for other projects – but to begin with, he wouldn't even tune in to NBC on Thursday nights. There are still episodes he has never seen."I was worried – I couldn't bring myself to watch it at the beginning," he says. "I didn't want it to be too good, and I didn't want it to be bad. I had very strange feelings about it. If it was too good, then what the hell have I been doing?"

"It's like your ex-girlfriend," chips in Seinfeld.

"You want her to be happy." Pause. "In a way."

"In a way, yeah," laughs David.

But not as happy as she would have been if you'd still been together?

"Right," says Seinfeld. David nods.

What was different without your influence?

"It was a little wilder, I think," says David. "A little crazier, would you say?"

"Yeah, I would say," says Seinfeld. "A little bit more wide open."

"A difference in sensibility, I guess," says David.

"I had to depend more on the writers," says Seinfeld. "But also my sensibility is a little different from Larry's. Maybe a little less realistic. It doesn't bother me sometimes when things are a little sillier. A little less depth I think I have than Larry."

And you say that with such pride.

"I do," Seinfeld smirks. "I take great pride in that."

Nonetheless, last Christmas, Seinfeld announced that the show would end in May. So what had changed in the two years?

"The arc of the diver," he says. "You know – Stevie Winwood, "Arc of a Diver.' It's the arc, you know. There's that moment that the surfer pulls out of the wave after it's reached its full crest. And we were still at the peak. We had a long peak. It's like anything else – when Larry and I would get an idea for a bit, or some jokes about a subject, you make a certain number of jokes. How do you know when you've made enough? You just know. There's this feeling that, 'OK, I think we got all of this one.' And I had to have that feeling about the show: 'OK, I think we've got all of it.'"

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