Today, if you wanted to watch a TV show about nothing starring a bunch of selfish assholes, you’d probably turn on Keeping Up With The Kardashians. But in the 90s, there’s a 99.999999% chance you’d be watching Seinfeld. Jerry Seinfeld announced that the ninth and final season of Seinfeld would air in 1998. NBC wanted Jerry to stick around, but nothing could have kept him, not even the promise of $5 million an episode.
By the ninth season, Jerry Seinfeld was making about $1 million an episode. At the time, he was starring in the show he co-created with Larry David, and had been acting as showrunner since Larry left after the seventh season. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $1.5 million an episode. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards, and Jason Alexander were all taking home about $600,000 per episode. NBC had the money to throw at Seinfeld, and when it came time for Jerry to decide he wanted out, they reportedly offered him $100 million for a tenth season. Seasons three through nine had between 22 and 24 episodes, which would have worked out to about $5 million an episode for Jerry.
That kind of money could have paid for any number of cars and coffees (hell, he probably could have bought a comedian or two). But Jerry revealed in an interview with The New York Times that NBC probably could have come at him with $1 billion and he still would have turned them down.
“It was the perfect moment, and the proof that it was the right moment is the number of questions you’re still asking me about it. The most important word in art is ‘proportion.’ How much? How long is this joke going to be? How many words? How many minutes? And getting that right is what makes it art or what makes it mediocre.”
He adds that he flips right past episodes of Seinfeld on television when he comes across them, because they took a level of creative “focus” to make, and he can’t ever look at them again.
Jerry Seinfeld, of course, is very rich, thanks to millions in Seinfeld syndication checks, and cracking jokes in his Porsche while Netflix paid him $100 million. So it’s not like he’s hurting for cash, and you can probably count out a Seinfeld reunion (save for season 7 of Curb Your Enthusiasm). However, it might be a whole other story if suddenly the syndication dollars dried up. Or if he was forced to start selling his expensive mansions and cars to satisfy a debilitating white dad sneaker addiction. “Hey, NBC – it’s Jerry! Listen, how much money would you give me for a belated 10th season. You want to see Jerry and Kramer get into a fight with Postmates?”