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Jerry Seinfeld Rejects NBC’s Offer for $5 Million Per Episode for His Sitcom, Says He Wants

December 27, 1997

Jerry Seinfeld Rejects NBC’s Offer for $5 Million Per Episode for His Sitcom, Says He Wants To End Show at Its PeakBy FRAZIER MOORE

NEW YORK (AP) _ As the Soup Nazi might put it: No more ``Seinfeld″ for you!

And no more soup-er ``Seinfeld″ ratings for NBC, which will lose the show at the center of TV’s most profitable night ever.

Jerry Seinfeld rejected NBC’s offer to raise his pay from $1 million to an estimated $5 million per episode next season, which would have been a record payday for a series.

``I wanted to end the show on the same kind of peak we’ve been doing it on for years,″ Seinfeld said in Friday’s New York Times. ``I wanted the end to be from a point of strength. I wanted the end to be graceful.″

But now NBC could pay a much heavier price: the network’s prime-time ratings supremacy.

Viewers, of course, will pay, too. They will be deprived of laugh-filled new adventures for ``Seinfeld’s″ self-involved, urbanely bumbling New Yorkers: Jerry, a stand-up comic (played by stand-up comic Seinfeld), along with neurotic George (Jason Alexander), bizarre Kramer (Michael Richards), and Jerry’s high-strung ex-girlfriend, Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

As the hateful mailman Newman, Wayne Knight has had an ideal opportunity to observe the group dynamics.

``They continue to stick around with each other because each of them is someone they’ve stuck with for years, even though they can’t quite justify it,″ Knight said in a recent interview.

And so the ninth season will be the last for the sitcom that made catch phrases out of ``not that there’s anything wrong with that″ (being gay, that is), ``master of your domain″ (a sly euphemism for resisting the urge to masturbate), ``yada, yada, yada″ (blah-blah-blah), and chip ``double dippers″ (germ spreaders).

The show claimed to be about nothing, and nothing was too trivial to inspire a half-hour of humor. One episode had the cast repeatedly trying to buy soup from an authoritarian chef.

The show became a major profit-maker for NBC (an estimated $200 million a year) and came to represent the 1990s just as surely as ``The Cosby Show″ marked the 1980s and ``All in the Family″ the tumultuous ’70s.

It was the ultimate water-cooler show, a topic of conversation at work on Friday mornings. (In fact, a Milwaukee jury awarded $26 million to a Miller Brewing Co. executive in June who was fired after telling a female colleague about an episode in which Jerry forgets his girlfriend’s name and remembers only that it rhymes with a part of the female anatomy.)

The ``Seinfeld″ foursome has won 10 Emmys and is currently No. 2 in the ratings, behind NBC’s ``ER.″

Though filmed in Los Angeles, ``Seinfeld″ has done the Big Apple proud, as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani noted Friday. Calling it ``the show of the decade,″ the mayor, who made a cameo appearance in a 1993 episode, said ``Seinfeld″ promotes the city ``with grace and humor.″

Asked outside NBC headquarters Friday to recall one of her favorite ``Seinfeld″ moments, Sarah Ellis of New York grinned at the thought of the nails episode: ``Elaine gets her nails done from Korean women and she can’t understand anything they say, so she brings George’s father to translate, and he gets in a fight with them.″

Elisabeth Gladston, another New Yorker, recalled the time Elaine put her foot down over her boyfriend’s habit of painting his face. And James Shanahan, visiting from Los Angeles, cited the episode in which Kramer hit on a moneymaking scheme: the man’s brassiere.

Oddly enough for a series that celebrates greed, selfishness and yada, yada, yada, the choice for its creator-star was one of love vs. money _ and love won. Seinfeld called his sitcom ``the greatest love affair of my life,″ telling the Times: ``We all felt we wanted to leave in love.″

His reasoning warmed the heart of Syracuse University professor Robert J. Thompson, who has singled out ``Seinfeld″ as the only TV series of the 1990s included in his History of TV course.

``One of the disadvantages of American series television is this obligation to keep going as long as someone will continue to pay,″ said Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television.

``You look at `L.A. Law,′ which would have gone down as one of the great series of all time, yet completely compromised its reputation in the last couple of years it was on the air.″

Some viewers have groused that this season’s ``Seinfeld″ hasn’t been up to snuff. But it is certainly near, if not still at, its peak, and it bids farewell in the grand tradition of such leave-’em-wanting-more favorites as ``Mary Tyler Moore,″ ``M-A-S-H,″ ``Cosby″ and ``Cheers.″

But when it goes, ``Seinfeld″ won’t leave NBC laughing. The network is reeling from its poorest showing in the November ratings sweeps since 1994, and is seeing a 10 percent erosion in its audience from a year ago.

Its prospects seem bleak for finding a ``Seinfeld″-worthy replacement on its all-important ``Must See TV″ Thursday night lineup. NBC offered a fall slate of no fewer than 18 comedies, but none of its newcomers has emerged as a hit.

Adding to its headaches, NBC will be fighting (and almost certainly paying more) to keep ``ER″ from jumping to a rival network after this season.

At NBC, there’s no serenity now.

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