The Seinfeld cash value Pay: If NBC was prepared to pay Jerry $5 million per episode, then what would be the worth of Tea Leoni? Chuck Norris? David Hasselhoff? Pat Sajak?

January 04, 1998|By Michael Gray

So, do you believe that "Seinfeld" news?

No, not the fact that the Four Horsemen of Neuroticness - Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer - are finally riding off into the sunset after this season. That probably should have happened a couple of seasons ago, before the show stopped being really funny.

No, I'm talking about the fact that the NBC brass - the same geniuses who sent Letterman packing a few years back - proudly announced that they were ready to pay Jerry Seinfeld $5 million per episode to crank out one more season of shows about nothing.

Five million a pop! That's some serious money, the kind that only sages such as film producers and pro sports team owners usually shell out. I mean, even Steve Urkel didn't get that kind of cash to jump to CBS this year, and his show is just as hilarious as ever. Ahem.

I mean, let's look at it this way: At $5 million an episode, Jerry would have earned $110 million sitting in that diner next year. If he'd earned as much for the show's entire run, he'd have made almost a billion dollars. Just think how many more Mulva and Soup Nazi jokes we might have gotten for that sort of scratch.

Or consider this: Paid at NBC's suggested rate, Jerry would have made approximately $227,272.72 per minute of each 22-minute show. Say he spoke about 500 words of dialogue per episode: That's better than $10,000 a word. He'd have banked another $15 million by the time he said "Hello, Newman" every couple of shows.

Absurd, right? But just for argument's sake, let's say he was really worth that sort of cash. What would that mean for the rest of the folks in television land? If Jerry Seinfeld is worth $5 million per episode, what is Lucy Lawless worth to "Xena: Warrior Princess"? Easy: $6 million. Her show's not only funnier, she's better looking and kicks more butt than Jerry.

In fact, this new standard - let's call it the Seinfeld Scale of Theoretical Value (SSTV) - allows us to easily assign relative worth to stars of the wonderful programming across the television spectrum. Let's give it a try, shall we?

* Pat Sajak, "Wheel of Fortune": $8 million per episode. Think about it - the guy not only has to watch as drooling contestants fail to solve puzzles like "P_T S_J_K," he has to work for Merv Griffin and make small talk with Vanna every night. Besides, my parents love him.

* Tea Leoni, "The Naked Truth": $10 million per episode. I'm not saying she's worth that much, I'm just saying I think the guys at NBC would pay her that, given how fervently they seem to believe she can actually act.

* Chuck Norris, "Walker, Texas Ranger": $7 million per episode. Hey, the guy deserves at least that in compensatory damages for all the toxic chemicals they've used to make his beard that weird color. And this year they've added hair extensions. Chuck, fight back!

* David Hasselhoff, "Baywatch": $17.83 per episode. Aaron Spelling without the wit, this is the man who has also perpetrated "Baywatch Nights" and is more or less responsible for "Team Knight Rider."

* Bob Ross, "The Joy of Painting": $5 million per episode. He's been dead more than two years, but bushy-haired Bob is still composing those "happy little trees" and "puffy little clouds" of his in the limbo of syndication. For that kind of money, maybe PBS could bring him back full time and stop airing "Riverdance" and "John Tesh Live at Red Rocks" every night.

* Michelle Forbes, "Homicide: Life on the Street": $13 million per episode. Now will you answer one of my love letters, Michelle? Please?!

Of course, were we to apply the SSTV standard rigorously, some TV shows would be required to pay us to watch. I'm sending my bills off today to "Cochran & Company," "The Real World," the "working girls" in NBC's Monday night lineup and all the figure skating and Mark Russell specials. Oh, and that cable show called "The Operation" - you're paying for the lunch I lost that time I tuned in.

With the cash I get from those shows in hand, I could then apply the SSTV logic in reverse - paying networks not to make any more episodes of certain shows. Sort of a crap subsidy, you might say. Get ready to say goodbye to "The World's Funniest/Most Embarrassing/Most Dangerous I (Whatever)." So long, Howie, Terry and the rest of the gang at Fox's NFL halftime show. Later, "X Games" dudes. All the "Star Trek" progeny would boldly go into a black hole somewhere, taking Rosie, Oprah, Jerry Springer and the entire E! network with them.

As a precaution, I'd also pay to kill every other sitcom conceived before it even gets into production. (Make that two out of three commissioned by WB and UPN.)

And as long as the networks are willing to throw Seinfeld-like money around, I'd suggest CBS see how many people it can get for $5 million per episode to watch any of the current CBS weekday lineup - even including "Michael Hayes" and "Dellaventura." Call me an optimist, but I think those extra eight or 10 viewers might just get those guys over the hump.

Michael Gray, features news editor of The Sun, wants Santa to know it's not too late to bring him that satellite dish.

Pub Date: 1/04/98

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