How’s this for a big salad?
Repeat fees for “Seinfeld” have generated $3.1 billion since the final episode aired on NBC 15 years ago. The enduring 1990s sitcom, created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, is the most profitable 30-minute show in television history, and it has been for some time. But the latest syndication negotiations have pushed the series through the $3 billion mark, the Independent’s Adam Sherwin reported on Wednesday.
That doesn’t include what the stars were paid per episode, which in 1997 was a reported $1 million an episode for the show’s eponymous lead and $600,000 per episode for co-stars Michael Richards, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander. At the time, the quartet was the highest-paid cast on television, according to Entertainment Weekly.
Unlike co-creators Seinfeld and David, Richards, Louis-Dreyfus and Alexander do not own a stake in “Seinfeld,” which significantly lessens what they earn from the series’ postmortem run. The three co-stars receive SAG-AFTRA residuals and a cut of DVD sales, but those cuts don’t come close to the estimated $400 million per year that Seinfeld and David will earn from the latest syndication deal.
An amalgam of post-modernism and 1990s apathy, “Seinfeld” has aged surprisingly well, with many of its mundane topics as relatable today as they were when the show aired. TV critics attribute its enduring success to the triple-threat combination of quality acting, writing and producing. Seinfeld and David famously pitched the series as a “show about nothing,” and it almost was. Fox reportedly passed on the show (Rupert Murdoch is understood to still be kicking himself), and it took the sitcom four seasons before it edged its way into Nielson’s top 30.
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Despite its ongoing popularity, “Seinfeld” is likely to lose its top-earning crown at some point in the not too distant future. In 2010, the media professor and pop-culture guru Robert Thompson predicted that the series will eventually be toppled by an even longer-running cultural touchstone. “When the end of world history comes, ‘The Simpsons’ will be the most-rerun show of all time and make the most money," Thompson told the New York Post.
Thompson was probably on to something, seeing how “The Simpsons” is still on the air -- with no hint of cancelation in sight. It’s Kramer vs. Homer. Let the battle begin.