From a Feud With Roseanne Barr to Walking Away From $110 Million for Season 10: 30 Fascinating Facts About Seinfeld

And yada, yada, yada, it's been three decades since the NBC hit first premiered.

By Billy Nilles Jul 05, 2019 10:00 AMTags
Related: 7 Stars Who Had Breakout Roles on "Seinfeld"

"Yada, yada, yada."

"These pretzels are making me thirsty."

"No soup for you!"

"Serenity Now!"

If you're a TV fan of a certain generation, chances are you've quoted one, if not all, of the above catchphrases at one point or another in your everyday life. Such was the cultural impact of Seinfeld, NBC's groundbreaking and eternally beloved sitcom from the genius minds of namesake and star Jerry Seinfeld and his writing and producing partner Larry David.

It's been 30 years since the pilot for the "show about nothing" debuted on July 5, 1989. And while it took a while for the show to find its legs—and for NBC execs and viewers alike to recognize just what a gift they'd been given—the show went on to become the crown jewel of the network's monumental "Must-See TV" line-up on Thursday nights and the first series outside the Super Bowl to command over $1 million a minute for advertising.

The show not only changed the perception of what a sitcom could look like, but it made stars (and multi-millionaires) out of Seinfeld and the trio of comedy powerhouses starring alongside him: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards. Seinfeld may have only won 10 Emmys altogether—a number that seems unfathomably low, if you ask us—but its cultural impact speaks volumes. 

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30 Stars Who Got Their Start on Seinfeld

The show remains inescapable in syndication—turn your TV on right now and chances are remarkably high that you'll find an episode airing somewhere—and has maintained its pedigree as one of the medium's all-time greats. (Sure, the series finale failed to impress most, but when an estimated 76.3 million viewers, roughly 58 percent of all viewers watching TV that night, are tuning in, you've already won.)

So as we celebrate the birth of a show so legendary 30 years later, we thought we'd give you a glimpse into what went on behind-the-scenes during those unforgettable nine seasons. And we've got to say, for a show so wickedly funny, there sure was a lot of drama. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

1. The show was originally conceived as a 90-minute, one-off TV special to air during Saturday Night Live's time slot. Early titles for the project were Stand Up and The Jerry Seinfeld Show. As Seinfeld and David began to develop the project, it became clear that it couldn't sustain itself in a 90 minute format, so it became a pilot entitled The Seinfeld Chronicles that aired on July 5, 1989. NBC initially passed on ordering any more episodes until exec Rick Ludwin championed the project and offered up part of his budget to give the show a chance. Still unsure, the network ordered a four-episode first season, the shortest in TV history.

2. Despite its reputation—and the way Jerry and George pitch their show-within-a-show on Seinfeld—the show was never intended to be "a show about nothing." As Seinfeld revealed during a 2014 Reddit AMA, "The pitch for the show, the real pitch, when Larry and I went to NBC in 1988, was we want to show how a comedian gets his material. The show about nothing was just a joke in an episode many years later, and Larry and I to this day are surprised that it caught on as a way that people describe the show, because to us it's the opposite of that."

3. While Jerry, George and Kramer are all present in the show's pilot, Elaine is not. In her place is a waitress at the diner named Claire, played by Lee Garlington. She was fired and the reason why remains of some dispute. NBC exec Warren Littlefield has said it was because he thought a waitress character would never "be one of the gang," while Alexander, meanwhile, has claimed it's because Garlington provided David with unsolicited rewrites of the script. Seinfeld has said, however, that producers were merely looking for someone "more involved."

4. While it's hard to imagine anyone but Alexander playing George Costanza, he was not Seinfeld's first choice for the character. In an interview with Access Hollywood, the comedian revealed that he'd begged his friend Jake Johannsen to play the part, only to have him refuse the role.

5. Of the show's 173 episodes, Alexander appears in all but one, season three's "The Pen." David's decision to leave both George and Kramer out of that episode left Alexander shook and forced him to drop a bit of an ultimatum on the writer. "When Seinfeld started I had a very successful career in the theatre in New York which is what I thought I was going to be doing all my life," he told Access Hollywood in 2017. "So, when I was written out of an episode I came back the next week and I said to Larry, ‘Look, I get it. But if you do that again, do it permanently. If you don't need me to be here every week...I'd just as soon go back home and do what I was doing.'" David listened and George was never missing from an episode again.

6. While David has long been considered the inspiration for the George character, his last name actually comes from Seinfeld's former friend Michael Costanza. And he wasn't too thrilled about it. Not only did he write a book entitled The Real Seinfeld: As Told by the Real Costanza in 1998, but that year, he sued Seinfeld, David and NBC for $100 million, accusing them of slander, libel and an unauthorized use of his name, likeness and persona. "George is bald. I am bald," Costanza told ABC News. "George is stocky. I am stocky. George and I both went to Queens College with Jerry. George's high-school teacher nicknamed him 'Can't stand ya.' So did mine. George had a thing about bathrooms and parking spaces. So do I." The case was thrown out.

7. As Elaine wasn't added to the series until after it was picked up, she doesn't appear in that first episode. And as Louis-Dreyfus admitted in a making-of documentary for the show's first season DVD box set, she wasn't even aware the episode existed until 2004 and has refused to ever watch it out of superstition.

8. A handful of other actress were in the running for the role of Elaine before Louis-Dreyfus accepted the role, including Rosie O'Donnell, Megan Mullally, Mariska Hargitay and Patricia Heaton.

9. When the show introduced Elaine's intimidating father Alton Benes in the season two episode "The Jacket," it was meant to be a recurring role. However, when life imitated art and the actor playing Alton, Lawrence Tierney, stole a kitchen knife from the kitchen set and hid it under his jacket, only to pretend to stab Seinfeld while shrieking the infamous Psycho shower scene music, it was clear that he had to go. "I remember looking at Tom [Cherones], I remember looking at Julia [Louis-Dreyfus], and just going, this is, we're in the land of the sick now," Alexander said in season two DVD extra. Louis-Dreyfus put it more bluntly: "I'll tell you something about Lawrence Tierney. He was a total nutjob."

10. In the pilot, Kramer is called Kessler because the person he was based on, David's former neighbor Kenny Kramer, initially hesitated at agreeing to let the show use his name. (Richards did not base his performance on Kenny, however, as he refused to ever meet the man.) It was only after Seinfeld and David paid him $1,000 that he relented and let them use his surname. In turn, Kenny created the Kramer Reality Tour, a bus tour of New York City that points out the actual location of events or places in Seinfeld. In season eight, the show would spoof this by having Kramer lend his life stories to pad out Elaine's boss' biography before launching a bus tour of his own called The Peterman Reality Tour.

11. According to the 2016 book Seinfeldia by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong, because of Richards' total immersion into his character and the intensity with which he approached it, his co-stars "didn't feel like they knew him, even later, after years on the set together." They also didn't love the raucous reception he'd receive from the studio audience every time he delivered one of his signature explosive entrances into Jerry's apartment, as the applause broke up the pace of the scenes. Eventually, directors would have to begin asking the audience to keep their applause to a minimum.

12. David made sure to instill a "no hugging, no learning" policy in the show, meaning there should be no sentimentality or situations that forced any of the main characters to grow or change. As he once told a reporter, A lot of people don't understand that Seinfeld is a dark show. If you examine the premises, terrible things happen to people. They lose jobs; somebody breaks up with a stroke victim; somebody's told they need a nose job. That's my sensibility."

13. The Soup Nazi was based on a real chef, who really did not appreciate the gag. Al Yeganeh, known as The Original SoupMan, operated in NYC with a famous set of strict rules that wold result in "no soup for you" if you didn't follow them. When the show imitated him in a 1995 episode, not only did Seinfeld find himself unceremoniously banned from his midtown Manhattan soup stall, but Yeganeh went on CNN and called him a "clown" whose use of "the N word—the Nazi word—is disgraceful." When the interviewer suggested Seinfeld made him famous, Yeganeh countered, "No. He got fame through me. I made him famous."

14. While the show never really viewed anything as off-limits, there was one episode that got shelved after making it all the way to the rehearsal stage with sets built and it focused on Elaine buying a gun. The season two episode was written by future Borat director Larry Charles, and while the premise seemed simple enough, a joke about Elaine shooting herself in the head referring to "The Kennedy," imitating the assassination of the president, left everyone involved wanting to pull the plug. As director Tom Cherones noted, "Guns aren't funny." "We did the read-through and then canceled it. A lot of other stuff happened, but trying to make that funny ended up being no fun," Seinfeld noted in his Reddit AMA. The episode was replaced with "The Phone Message."

15. The iconic theme music that opened each episode was tweaked slightly by composer Jonathan Wolff every week to better fit that episode. As he explained it, he would receive a detailed list of that week's opening lines and use them to influence the new jazzy riff. "It was a little bit more labor intensive than most other shows because I had to re-do that opening every time. But it was worth it," Wolff told Vice in 2015. "It was a worthwhile venture. It made sense. It wasn't a waste, even as I was doing them I knew it wasn't a waste. He was funny. He was creating new material. As long as he's creating new material, I'll do the same thing, and I will create along with him."

16. The decision to kill off George's fiancee Susan at the end of the show's seventh season (by licking poisonous envelopes, no less) came from a rather unlikely place: Louis-Dreyfus. As Alexander explained it during a 2015 interview with Howard Stern, the actress who played Susan, Heidi Swedberg, had comedic instincts that clashed with his. "I couldn't figure out how to play off of her," he said, adding that by the time Seinfeld and JLD shared scenes with her, they came to the same conclusion. "They go, 'You know what? It's f--king impossible. It's impossible,'" he said, while stressing that he had nothing against Swedberg personally. "And Julia actually said, 'Don't you want to just kill her?' And Larry went, 'Ka-bang!'"

17. The cast found themselves in a bizarre feud with Roseanne Barr and her then-husband Tom Arnold when Louis-Dreyfus inadvertently parked in Arnold's parking spot on the CBS lot where both shows filmed. He left a note on her windshield that read "How stupid are you? Move your f--king car, you asshole!" which promoted the actress, alongside Alexander and David to confront him. After their encounter, she later found "a Polaroid of someone's buttocks left on her windshield and the word 'c--t' written in soap." Barr then took the feud public, calling JLD a bitch during an appearance on David Letterman's late-night show, adding derisively, "They think they're doing Samuel Beckett instead of a sitcom." As quoted in Seinfeldia, when Alexander was asked about the comment, he replied, "I am willing to bet that she has never read anything Beckett ever wrote."

18. Before Seinfeld landed on Junior Mints as Kramer's candy of choice for the iconic episode "The Junior Mint," it was originally intended for him to drop popcorn into the patient whose surgery he was watching. "I was on the phone with my brother, running the story by him, and he said, ‘No, make it Junior Mints because it's funnier,'" writer Andy Robin told HuffPost in 2015.

19. While the indelible season eight moment that introduced the world to Elaine's unique dancing skills became one of Louis-Dreyfus' defining moments on the series, it almost never happened. As writer Spike Feresten told HuffPost in 2015, David was so against the story that it only got approved once he left the series after season seven. Even as it filmed, some still weren't so convinced that it was a good idea. "I remember walking through at rehearsal," the writer recalled. "Jennifer Crittenden pulled me aside after Julia [Louis-Dreyfus] did the dance for the first time and said, 'Are you sure about this? Are you sure you're not ruining Julia Louis-Dreyfus' career?' 'No, I'm not.' That's the year she won an Emmy."

20. When JLD found herself pregnant during the show's third season, Seinfeld approached the actress with an idea about how to handle the personal development: He suggested they write Elaine simply getting fat into the season. The though didn't sit well with Louis-Dreyfus, who was so offended she burst into tears, and it was scraped in favor of simply hiding her growing belly behind props and big coats. Years later, during an episode of Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, she admitted, "It was a great idea, and we should've done it."

21. Louis-Dreyfus wasn't such a fan of Elaine. Speaking with New York Magazine during the show's final season, she had this to say about the character: "I think Elaine would go out with anyone if they showed interest in her. She's nuts. The woman's nuts. Yeah, I'm sure it's a self-esteem problem. I mean, she's hanging out with these three guys, in that ratty apartment -- where's the self-esteem there? Elaine should be looking for an analyst, is what she should be looking for."

22. Early in the show's run, NBC almost pulled the plug on an episode that would go on to be recognized as one of Seinfeld's landmark half-hours. The season two episode "The Chinese Restaurant," which found the characters waiting for a table for the entire episode, left execs puzzled over the plotless script. Even Ludwin, the show's biggest champion, had issues with it, which he voiced to David, who fought for the episode, explaining it was "in the spirit of the show." To their credit, they let it air and the rest is history.

23. The network did find themselves forced to apologize for an episode just as the show was wrapping up. "The Puerto Rican Day," the show's second-to-last episode ever that saw the gang stuck in traffic during the Puerto Rican Day Parade, was branded an "unconscionable insult" by Manuel Mirabal, the president of the National Puerto Rican Coalition. NBC's then-president Robert Wright apologized, saying in a statement, ''Our appreciation of the broad comedy of Seinfeld does not in any way take away from the respect we have for the Puerto Rican flag.''

24. In one of the show's final episodes, we watched as Elaine, stumped by a New Yorker cartoon, tried to create her own involving a pig. 14 years later, the magazine returned the favor and published the cartoon, asking readers to submit captions of their own.

25. Seinfeld decided to end the show after nine seasons, in part, because he likes the number. As he told Vanity Fair in 1998, "Nine is cool. When I was thinking about quitting the show, I thought, nine. People said, 'Ten—why not 10?' But 10 is lame. Nine is my number. And then I found out that nine in numerology means completion."

26. NBC was so desperate to keep the hit series on for a 10th season that they made Seinfeld an offer that seemed impossible to refuse: $5 million per episode for a grand total of $110 million, a number three times higher per episode than anyone in TV had ever been offered before. But refuse it he did. His lucrative syndication deal (more on that in a second) likely helped him walk away without regret.

27. After Seinfeld sold into syndication for $1.7 billion dollars, Seinfeld found himself the top-earning celebrity of 1998, with Forbes claiming he'd earned $267 million in that year alone. Behind him was David at $242 million. Both were expected to benefit greatly from the syndication sale, which had gone on to make an estimated $4.06 billion by early 2017.

28. Seinfeld ended the way it began, with a conversation about buttons. The first bit of dialogue after Seinfeld's stand-up in the pilot sees Jerry and George discussing the poorly-placed top button on a men's shirt. In the finale's last scene, he utters the same line verbatim to George as the pair sit alongside Elaine and Kramer in a jail cell. George's response? "Haven't we had this conversation before?"

29. While the series finale, penned by David returning for the first time since season seven, has gone down in history as one of the most divisive, only one person actually died during its airing (that we know of). Ol' Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra, passed away during the show's west coast airing and it kept his daughter Nancy Sinatra from seeing him one last time. As she told Entertainment Tonight, she'd planned on visiting him that night, but she "got so involved watching that damn show that I never got over to my dad's." As Fire Chief Mike Smollen told the Daily News, "there wasn't much traffic" that night as the ambulance raced to Sinatra, as the finale left L.A.'s streets nearly deserted between 8 and 10 p.m. that night.

30. While Seinfeld walked away from a tenth season, there was almost a spinoff to the series. A year after the show wrapped up, reports began circulating that a potential series featuring Phil Morris' lawyer Jackie Chiles, an homage to Johnny Cochran, as the sole black lawyer at an all-white firm was in the works. Seinfeld and David worked with Morris on the pitch before the whole thing apparently fell apart

(E! and NBC are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)

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