'Seinfeld' to terminate run at end of TV season Its star reportedly wants to leave while on top, rejecting huge NBC deal

December 26, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

"Seinfeld," the most popular television comedy of the 1990s and the centerpiece of the most profitable night in television history, will stop production at the end of this season, Jerry Seinfeld, the show's creator and star, said yesterday.

The loss of "Seinfeld," which made the country laugh at the soup Nazi, close-talkers, chip double-dippers and loaves of marble rye is a serious blow to NBC, which has already seen its prime-time strength begin to weaken this season.

The show has anchored NBC's big Thursday night since 1993, leading the network to its No. 1 position and to record-making profits, approaching $1 billion this year. "Seinfeld" alone has generated more than $200 million a year in profits for NBC, according to advertising industry estimates. "Seinfeld" has become a cultural signpost in a class with "I Love Lucy" and "The Honeymooners."

NBC considered the show so important that in trying to persuade Seinfeld to stay, it offered him what one executive said was the most lucrative deal ever extended to a television star.

With the departure of the show, the balance of power in the competition for supremacy during prime time could shift.

In a statement, NBC said: "To keep a show of this caliber at its peak has been a great undertaking. We respect Jerry's decision that, at the end of this season, it's time to move on."

The decision to close the show, long anticipated in the television industry, was Seinfeld's. Associates said Seinfeld decided late Tuesday to wrap up production with a finale episode this spring.

"He just decided to go out on top," one associate said, speaking on condition of anonymity and comparing the decision to that of a top athlete who wants to leave the arena before fans believe his skills are eroding.

The half-hour show revolves around four single, slightly neurotic and self-absorbed friends who negotiate the perils of love and life in New York. The characters are Jerry Seinfeld, who plays himself as a stand-up comedian; Elaine Benes, his former girlfriend and platonic pal; George Costanza, his high-school buddy who has trouble keeping jobs; and Kramer, his eccentric neighbor who barges in and out of Seinfeld's apartment.

Some media critics have said this year's episodes fell short of LTC the show's highest standards, but Seinfeld maintained that he was proud of the work and was not quitting because of those comments.

"Seinfeld," now in its ninth season, remains the top-rated comedy in television this season, second only in overall rating to the NBC drama "ER." But for the past full year, counting the repeats, "Seinfeld" has been the most watched show in all of television. The comedy, in reruns, is also the highest-rated syndicated series in television and is expected to eventually make almost $1 billion in syndication revenues.

Seinfeld's associates said the network offered a deal that would have been the richest in television history if Seinfeld, a former stand-up comedian, had agreed to continue the show for one more year.

One executive familiar with the negotiations estimated that NBC, led in the talks by Robert C. Wright, the network's president, and Jack Welch, the chairman and chief executive of General Electric Co., NBC's parent company, had offered Seinfeld a deal worth about $5 million per episode to keep his show in production. "Seinfeld" produces 22 episodes a season.

"When Jerry said he was turning it down, Jack just went numb," said the executive familiar with the negotiations.

Some reports have set Seinfeld's salary at $1 million per episode, but the executive said Seinfeld had been at that figure three years ago.

"He already makes much more than that," the executive said. "But this deal was a huge jump over that."

Pub Date: 12/26/97

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