Tuesday, April 7th
Today is quite an exciting day," Seinfeld tells me at lunchtime. "Today is the last day I go to work. I go to work, I leave work. Tomorrow is different. Tomorrow is insanity. Tomorrow is going to the moon." He got a little sad driving to the studio today. He was listening to the Billy Joel and Ray Charles duet "Baby Grand." (He looks slightly miffed when I tell him Billy Joel isn't quite my thing. "He's from Long Island," Seinfeld says. "There's so few people from Long Island.") And that song got to him. "It's about how everything in life has failed them, except for the piano."
I ask Seinfeld what the equivalent of the piano is in his life.
After saying that it doesn't quite apply to him – not everything has failed him – he answers. "Bits," he says. That's the Seinfeld speciality. Not large pieces of anything. Bits.
They shoot a scene, but they can't hear some of the dialogue.
"We could do with a monitor in here," Seinfeld suggests.
"Also," says Richards, straight faced, "some kind of vibrating chair would be nice."
There is a key line of dialogue near the end of the episode that doesn't satisfy David. He puts his head together with some of the show's writers. (Many of them have been hanging around during these last days, just because they can.) David himself comes up with a better alternative, then Alec Berg trumps him.
"That's a great line," says David. But he foresees a possible legal problem. "I don't know if we're allowed to do it."
"Do yours too," Alec suggests, "and we'll have an option."
"Let's not give 'em an option," says David. "Fuck 'em."
They are running late. They had hoped to finish filming these scenes tonight and to spend tomorrow preparing scenes for the audience taping. But there isn't time. They debate options. One possibility is to film these unfinished scenes tomorrow night after the audience has gone. "That's a bit of a bummer finish," says Seinfeld. "Three hours of work after the curtain call." They decide to work until midnight tonight, to come in at 10 a.m. (the actors have a statutory twelve-hour-minimum break, which they agree to waive), and to postpone tomorrow's audience taping from 6:30 p.m. until 8:30. Any danger that any of them might overindulge in emotion has been chased away by the sheer, arduous work it will take to finish the episode in time.
Wednesday, April 8th
The final day. There are TV-news crews outside both gates at the studios. Just before 10a.m., I walk into a bleary Jason Alexander, wearing a blue-and-white number nine Seinfeld Alexander football shirt. On his last day of Seinfeld, he had to take his kids to school. There was no point going home afterward, so he came into work at 8:30 a.m.
Today Seinfeld drove in with the radio on. "I was listening to Mega 100 and McDonald's commercials, and my sunglasses were fogging up," he says when he arrives. "I can't believe we're here...." Later, he will tell me that it was on this morning drive that it all hit him the hardest: "It was like a ton of bricks – it was like the whole nine years crashed into the side of my face. It was heavy, man."
They gather on the set of Jerry's apartment. "This is it," says Richards as he walks in.
Any incipient sentimentality is interrupted by a most Seinfeld-esque etiquette debate. Seinfeld wants to know whether he should have explicitly invited some of his peers – those he characterizes as "close friends I don't see that much" – to tonight's taping. "They'd call if they wanted to come, right?" he argues. And he doesn't want to make them feel obliged to come. But... what if they are waiting for an invitation and are feeling snubbed? What, precisely, are the social rules which govern Filming the Last Episode of America's Most Important Comedy of the Nineties?
Louis-Dreyfus arrives. She is yet to be filled in on the subject of conversation.
"Can I ask you something?" Seinfeld says.
She shrugs. "The answer will be," she mugs, "'Who gives a shit?'"
"Did you invite Mario?" Alexander asks.
"No," says Seinfeld. Mario Joyner is a comedian friend.
"Is he coming?" Alexander asks.
"Yes," Seinfeld nods. "But that's a different orbit of friendship. He's a close close friend."
The debate goes on. David and Richards lean toward doing nothing; Alexander and Louis-Dreyfus toward calling. As far as I can tell, Seinfeld decides not to call.
I sit off to the side with Louis-Dreyfus. She points to some lines under her eyes: "I think that this week I have literally aged overnight. About four days ago I woke up and this had happened to me." I ask her what Jerry Seinfeld wants. "I would have to say happiness," she says. "And perhaps just one more car."
Her desires are equally straightforward. "I know I'm going to make breakfast in the morning for my kids and drive them to school and pick them up in the afternoon. I'm committed to absolutely nothing right now. I'm reading film scripts, but to be honest with you, I haven't seen a single thing that I liked. This is quite a lot to live up to, and I don't want to sully the experience of it. I'm going to try to take two naps tomorrow. My ten-month-old boy takes two naps a day, so I'm going to try and nap when he naps. Take two naps – that's my plan."
Alexander is directing a film called Cherry Pink this summer and is talking about a "broad action-comedy along the lines of Naked Gun." He'd also like to do a musical. He may consider another series in about three years when the impact of George Costanza has died down a little. "What would be different," he says, "is the next one would be me and my sensibilities."
"When the show's over, I intend to just read for two years," Richards tells me. "I am just coming into great literature. But you have to be careful – you can get very introverted when you get into reading a lot. I've bought the collected works of Poe and Cooper and Thoreau and Emerson and Whitman." And also Melville, as we know. He's also looking at comedy films and plays: "Samuel Beckett... Peter Handke... I love Ionesco and Pinter... those types ..." He, too, has a TV project for a character he thought up two years back, but he wants to wait four or five years. "I can't go back into television now," he frets, "no, no, no."
The real Kramer is here, tall, mustached and with his graying hair gathered in a ponytail. In recent time, he has famously made a living by offering Seinfeld tours around New York. (When he allowed them to use his name and so forth, he smartly made the agreement nonexclusive: "a moment of clarity," he says.) I ask him how he feels about his alter ego's disappearance. "As a fan, I'm disappointed," he says. "I'm happy for Michael – he's had a great run. I lucked ass-backward into a career from this. I've wanted to be famous since I was six. I used to practice signing my autograph. And it happened not because I had talent, but because I lived across the hall from a guy with talent. Only in America could it happen. But I had to be able to milk it. I have celebrity without accomplishment – think how sweet it is. I don't have to do anything. I'm the most famous next-door neighbor. I'm the good Kato Kaelin!"
Outside, the gaggle of camera crews has thickened. A helicopter has been hovering overhead. Two large white trucks have been pulled across the front of Stage Nine so that nothing can be seen from the gates when cast members wander outside. On the sidewalk, some media trickster is selling boxes of cereal, claiming that they are from the Seinfeld props department.
The 225 guests are given their confidentiality agreements to sign and shown to their seats. The stars are introduced one by one – "Michael Richards!... Julia Louis-Dreyfus!... Jason Alexander!... and, playing the part of comedian Jerry Seinfeld – comedian Jerry Seinfeld!" Backstage, waiting, the four of them have been hugging. Seinfeld tells them that, whatever happens, the four of them will be inextricably linked together forever. Now, faced with their last common audience, they hug again. Seinfeld takes the microphone and steps into the audience gallery. He habitually does this before a taping, to warm up the audience, but this is rather different: "Now, should I say something to make you cry... or should I not? Do you feel like crying? Because I could do it." He offers some sincere thanks to those who have helped the show and asks them not to blab about what they will see: "Don't tell anybody who ever told you a secret, because those are the people that tell everybody's secrets."
Over the previous eight days, they have been filming the show, scene by scene, out of order. Tonight, they slowly re-create most of the first ninetenths. Some scenes – in the coffee shop and in Jerry's apartment – they film for the first time. (These they generally do three or four times, consulting with David and director Andy Ackerman between takes, and sometimes substantially revising the dialogue as they go.) Some scenes, already roughly edited, are played to the audience on the TV monitors. Some others, which have been filmed but which are not yet edited or which might reveal too much if they were shown in their full glory, are re-created by the cast sitting or standing together, saying their lines, as one might at an early rehearsal of a play. When scenes are played on the TV monitors, Alexander, Richards and Louis-Dreyfus watch, but Seinfeld is usually standing in a dark corner, going over his next lines. Between takes, NBC programming head Warren Littlefield wanders around, asking the cast to sign the original, damning NBC research report on the Seinfeld Chronicles pilot.
It's slow going, with lots of stopping and starting. They're all clearly exhausted, but determined to make the most of it. It is after one o'clock in the morning when they step onto the set of their final scene. Seinfeld massages the back of Louis-Dreyfus' neck. Richards has disappeared.
"Where's Kramer?" she asks.
"Where's Kramer?" roars Alexander, and so does she. It is clearly time for them to rejoin the real world.
"Here he comes," notes Louis-Dreyfus. She moves into some mock Latin accent. "Oh! Let's shoot this fucker!"
"Let's shoot this fucker!" echoes Seinfeld in an equally silly voice.
The first take seems good enough, but David suggests they do one more. This time he worries that Alexander's key line didn't come through right. "Do you think you got it?" he asks Alexander.
"I can't tell anymore, Larry," says Alexander.
"Shall we pick it up?" David suggests. (A pick-up is when you simply film a line or two, not the whole scene.)
"Let's not end on a pick-up," Seinfeld implores.
"All right," says David. "Let's do the scene."
It is then that one of the cameramen announces that they must reload.
"Do you know what's beautiful?" says Seinfeld. "They're putting in a ten-minute magazine, we'll shoot thirty seconds, and there'll be nine and a half minutes of ..." He shrugs and opens his arms, says no more.
It's over. When the lights come up at the end, the cast takes its curtain call. The four of them hug each other, tightly, two by two, with moist eyes. Seinfeld takes the microphone. "Ladies and gentlemen ..." he begins – and the way he does so, it is as though he is going to say more, and as if only emotion or a desire for once not to find the funny way through to his destination stops him; anyway, the statement ends almost immediately – "that is a wrap."
The cast mingles round, hugging and tearing up, and the audience joins them on the floor. Champagne and sushi circulate. Seinfeld himself slips away backstage through his alter ego's bathroom, and stands in the craft-service area with his sister and her family. "I'm very happy," he tells them. "The past months... the guy in the circus with the steel balls ..." He mimes a circular juggling motion to explain what he means. "Well, I better go and wash away my makeup." His assistant hands him an envelope. He reads the note inside. Whatever it says, he is visibly moved. It's from Johnny Carson.
Later, he rejoins the party, circulating, smoking a Cuban cigar. He is given a painting – a re-creation of The Last Supper with Seinfeld as Jesus, the writers and director as the disciples. He will stay there until seven in the morning, arriving home just as his alarm clock is going off.
I cradle some champagne and stand in Jerry's Kitchen, looking at his twelve packs of cereal, probably the most famous breakfast snacks in history. Soon, all this will be gone, so it is important that we learn what we can while there is still time. They are, from left to right: Honeycomb, Frosted Shredded Wheat, Grape-Nuts, Honey-Nut Shredded Wheat, Waffle Crisp, Shredded Wheat (Spoon Size), Honey Bunches of Oats, Frosted Shredded Wheat (again), Bits'N'Pieces, Blueberry Morning, Golden Multi-Grain Flakes and Froot Loops.
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