Seinfeld is a situation comedy which ran from July 5, 1989 to May 14, 1998. One of the most popular and influential TV programs of the 1990s, it epitomizes the self-obsessed and ironic culture of the decade. In 2002, TV Guide ranked Seinfeld as the greatest TV show of all time. The show was created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld.
It stars Jerry Seinfeld playing "Jerry Seinfeld", a character based largely on himself, and is set predominantly in an apartment block in Manhattan's Upper West Side (see Geography of Seinfeld). It features an eclectic cast of characters, mainly Jerry's friends and acquaintances such as Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), George Costanza (Jason Alexander) and Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards). It was produced by Castle Rock Entertainment (then helmed by actor-producer Rob Reiner) and distributed by Columbia Pictures Television (now Sony Pictures Television).
The show has been famously described as "the show about nothing" (a self-referential phrase from an episode describing Jerry and George's attempt to create a sitcom idea), as most of the comedy was based around the largely inconsequential minutiae of every-day life, and often involved petty rivalries and elaborate schemes to gain the smallest advantage over other individuals. Seinfeld himself notes that his original premise — and the purpose for the standup excerpts that bookended each show — was that the show would be about how a comedian gathers material for his act. The characters have also been described as utterly selfish and amoral; the show stood out by depicting these traits in a comedic fashion. However, it should be noted that a common motif concerns characters' attempts to do nice things for people, only to have them backfire exponentially. In contrast to many other sitcoms, the allowing of scenes to lapse into sentimentality was generally avoided, and Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David's dictum of "no hugging, no learning" gave the show its distinctively cold and cynical tone. However, themes of illogical social graces and customs, neurotic and obsessive behavior, and the mysterious workings of relationships ran in numerous episodes, making it possible to categorize the show as a comedy of manners. The show's creators made a conscious effort to reflect the activities of real people, rather than the idealized escapist characters often seen on television, although many of the show's plots involve intricate, and often cyclical strings of events that converge in the end to form a grand irony.
Previous shows on television were almost always family or co-worker driven, but Seinfeld holds itself up as being a then-rare example of a sitcom wherein none of the characters were related by blood or employed in the same building or business. In fact, many characters were not employed at all. According to Bruce Fretts' 1993 The "Entertainment Weekly" "Seinfeld" Companion, Seinfeld’s audience was, "TV-literate, demographically desirable urbanites, for the most part-who look forward to each weekly episode in the Life of Jerry with a baby-boomer generation's self-involved eagerness." Likewise, in episodes adhering to the original concept, the show featured clips of Seinfeld himself delivering a standup routine at the beginning and end of each episode, the theme of which relates to the events depicted in the plot. By this device the distinction between the actor Jerry Seinfeld and the character who is portrayed by him is deliberately blurred. In later seasons, these standup clips became less frequent. All of the main characters were modeled after Seinfeld's or Larry David's real-life acquaintances. In fact, many of the plot devices are based on real-life counterparts - such as the Soup Nazi (based on Al Yeganeh) and J. Peterman of the J. Peterman Catalog.
Another violation of the fiction convention of isolating characters from the actors playing them, and separating the characters' world from the actors' and audience's world, was a story arc that concerned the characters' roles in promoting a television sitcom series named Jerry. Jerry was much like Seinfeld in that Seinfeld played himself, and that the show was "about nothing". Jerry was launched in the 1993 season finale of Seinfeld, in an episode titled "The Pilot". This story arc, along with other examples of self-reference, have led many critics to point out the postmodern nature of the show. According to Katherine Gantz, this entanglement of character and actor relationships "seems to be a part of the show's complex appeal. Whereas situation comedies often dilute their cast, adding and removing characters in search of new plot possibilities, Seinfeld instead interiorizes; the narrative creates new configurations of the same limited cast to keep the viewer and the characters intimately linked. In fact, it is precisely this concentration on the nuclear set of four personalities that creates the Seinfeld community."
Another attribute that makes Seinfeld exceptional is that in almost every episode, several story threads are presented at the beginning, generally involving the various characters in separate and unrelated situations, which then converge and are interwoven towards the end of the episode in an ironic fashion. Due to the densely-plotted construction of the storylines, attempts to summarize the action in a given script are generally more verbose than one would expect for a sitcom. Despite any separate plot strands, the narratives show "consistent efforts to maintain [the] intimacy" between the small cast of characters. "Much of Seinfeld’s plot and humor hinge on outside personalities threatening—and ultimately failing—to invade the foursome, ... especially where Jerry and George are concerned." (Gantz 2000)
Gantz maintains that another factor in, or further proof of, spectators' and characters' participation in a Seinfeld community is the large amount of in-slang, "a lexicon of Seinfeldian code words and recurring phrases that go unnoticed by the infrequent or 'unknowing' viewer". These include "Bubble Boy", "Master of My Domain", "Shrinkage", "Mulva", "Crazy" Joe Davola, "Man Hands", "Yada Yada Yada", "Dr. Van Nostrand", "Spongeworthy", and "Art Vandelay" (which is a menu option at Moe's Southwest Grill).
The show premiered as The Seinfeld Chronicles on Thursday, May 31, 1990 on NBC. Seinfeld was not an immediate success. After the pilot was shown, on July 5, 1989, a pickup by NBC did not seem likely and the show was actually offered to Fox, which declined to pick up the show. It was only thanks to Rick Ludwin, head of late night and special events for NBC, for diverting money from his budget, that the next four episodes were filmed. After nine years on the air and 180 episodes filmed, the series finale of Seinfeld aired on Thursday, May 14, 1998. It was watched by a huge audience, estimated at 76 million viewers. Jerry Seinfeld holds both the record for the "most money refused" according to the Guinness Book of World Records by refusing an offer to continue the show for 5 million dollars per episode, and another record for the Highest Ever Annual Earnings For A TV Actor, while the show itself held the record for the Highest Television Advertising Rates through 2004, when the final episode of Friends aired.
In 2004 a deal was negotiated to make Seinfeld available on DVD for the first time. Due to legal problems with the cast involving episode commentary and other DVD extras, the release was pushed back. The first 3 seasons were released November 23, 2004, and season 4 was released on May 17, 2005. Season 5 and season 6 were released on November 22, 2005.
Jerome (Jerry) Seinfeld (played by Jerry Seinfeld)—A stand up comedian who seeks out relationships with very attractive women which rarely last more than one episode. He usually notices some very minor defect they have and makes a big deal about it, causing his relationships to end in very embarrassing ways. He is always making observations about everything and mocking people. Of the main characters, he seems to be the most sensible, in that he usually just sarcastically comments on the strange things the others do, instead of participating. On occasion he will reluctantly help his friends, but he seems to take the most pleasure in seeing them fail. However, he does put up with a lot from his friends, particularly Kramer's constant mooching. Among other things, he is obsessed with cleanliness, cereal, and Superman (there were visual, conversational, and thematic references to Superman throughout the series). His constant need to dissect tiny events in his life begins to wear the other characters thin in later episodes, especially Elaine. Jerry is the only character to appear in every episode of the show.
George Louis Costanza (played by Jason Alexander)—A "short, stocky, slow-witted, bald man" (as described by Elaine), the neurotic George is a self-loathing, congenital liar domineered by his parents, Frank and Estelle. He has held many jobs, including that of a real estate agent and assistant to the traveling secretary for the New York Yankees. He also worked briefly at a sporting equipment company called Play Now and at Kruger Industrial Smoothing (and — very briefly — at Pendant Publishing) in addition to nearly acquiring a job as a bra salesman for Sid Farkus, a friend of his father's. George was also a hand model for less than one episode.
His relationships with women were always unsuccessful, although ironically, his most disastrous relationship, an engagement to Susan Ross (played by Heidi Swedberg) was one of the few that ended "well" for George. (He feared marriage and the death of Susan bailed him out, although her parents continued to torment him after her demise.) His talents include lying, the video game Frogger, parallel parking, finding good deals, knowing whether someone's uncomfortable at a party, and the ability to recall the best public restroom near a given location in Manhattan.
The character of George was based on a combination of the show's co-creator, comedian Larry David, and Jerry's real-life childhood friend Michael Costanza. Episode plots would frequently feature George manufacturing elaborate deceptions at work or in his relationships, in order to gain or maintain some petty advantage. These schemes would invariably backfire. Most of George's reprehensible actions are the result of his taking the advice of others too seriously. For example, Jerry once jokingly suggested that he should only do the opposite of what his instinct tells him, as instinct has led only to misfortune. This comment led George to try and center his whole life around the principle. His disastrous engagement to Susan also began with a remark made by Jerry. Thus it can be argued that George is not really a bad person but just easily swayed by others. Many of George's predicaments were based on those that Larry David had found himself in at one point or another in his own life.
Elaine Marie Benes (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus)—Like Jerry, much of Elaine's life revolves around trying to arrange relationships with attractive individuals, although some of hers last longer than Jerry's. Her most memorable is her on-again, off-again relationship with David Puddy (played by Patrick Warburton). She has also held jobs for Pendant Publishing, The J. Peterman Catalog, and as a personal assistant to the wealthy Mr. Justin Pitt. Elaine was a composite of many female acquaintances of the writers, the two most prominent being writer Carol Leifer, Seinfeld's real-life ex-girlfriend, and the other being Monica Yates, Larry David's ex-girlfriend. In the show Elaine and Jerry dated, and "broke up", timeline-wise, just before the first episode, remaining friends over the course of the show. The couple rekindled their romance in "The Deal" and slept together in "The Mango" (in order to save their friendship, which was deteriorating due to the revelation that Elaine faked her orgasms while they dated), but the relationship reverted to platonic in both instances without any significant explanation.
Elaine went to Tufts University (her "safety school") and usually works as a writer-editor. Elaine is most often a victim of circumstance, usually coming into conflict with inadequate boyfriends or the arbitrary demands of her eccentric employers. She is usually fairly apathetic to the problems of others, unless of course they affect her directly. She can be surprisingly ruthless, and seems to be inwardly bitter about the state her life is in. (In one episode, in a discussion about what she wanted to be when she grew up, Elaine says she doesn't remember, but "it wasn't this." She also occasionally remarks that she needs to find new friends, and even tried to fit in with Bizarro Jerry, George and Kramer before they rejected her in "The Bizarro Jerry.") She is also known for her unusual spastic dancing style.
Cosmo Kramer (played by Michael Richards)—Tall, wild-haired, and almost always wearing pants too short for him, Kramer is the most eccentric Seinfeld character. He is perhaps most famous for his "entrance", opening the door to Jerry's apartment and sliding into the room. Until the 6th season, his first name was unknown. Once his full name was revealed in "The Switch" by his mother, Babs Kramer, most minor characters began calling him Cosmo, but the main group continued calling him Kramer. In the pilot, he is actually referred to as "Kessler" by Jerry, since the writers were worried about upsetting the real-life Kramer.
Kramer is perpetually unemployed after going on strike from a bagel shop that he worked at before the show began. In "The Strike" (episode 166, season 9), Kramer briefly goes back to work at the shop after 12 years of striking only to go back on strike a few days later. Throughout the series, he frequently pursues hare-brained money-making schemes, nearly all of them his own invention. Despite the failure of the majority of these schemes and his unwillingness to even apply for a normal job, he always seems to have money when he needs it; this running joke was never explained.
One of the most popular characters on the show, Kramer is often described as the "action character" that draws audiences with his wild and unusual antics displaying Michael Richard's skillful physical comedy. In one show, Kramer is called a "hipster doofus." He is based on Larry David's neighbor, Kenny Kramer, whose real-life "Seinfeld Reality Tour" was actually spoofed in one episode as the Cosmo's "J. Peterman Reality Tour". In contrast to the other characters, his eccentricities lead him to be almost always painfully honest. He is friends with Newman, as well as a wide variety of (mostly off-screen) acquaintances and shady partners, including Lomez and Bob Sacamano.
- Main article: Minor characters in Seinfeld
Newman (played by Wayne Knight) — Jerry and Kramer's neighbor; a portly, vengeful and spasmodic U.S. postal carrier. Newman is Jerry's archenemy, and at the same time Kramer's friend. In his first (offscreen) appearance, ("The Revenge," Season 2, Episode 12), Newman was voiced by Larry David. Wayne Knight later re-dubbed the voice in "The Revenge" for syndication. Newman and Jerry often use a specific routine of greeting each other when they meet, Newman saying "Hello, Jerry," and Seinfeld replying "Hello, Newman," both speaking in a venomous tone of mutual disgust. He never misses a chance to get Jerry into trouble. Nevertheless, he never seems to mind hanging around in Jerry's apartment from time to time as if they were friends. Occasionally, a story places him in the role of a fifth member of the group, though usually he is an antagonist. Like many of the Seinfeldian characters, Newman is a paradigm of contradiction. On the one hand he is slovenly (realizes he is sitting on a fork in his apartment), lazy (doesn't deliver mail when it rains, despite the famed saying, "Neither snow, nor rain, nor sleet," misquoted by George in the show as "neither rain..."), and completely selfish. However, he displays a surprising sensitivity, as in his infatuation with Elaine and his poetry for Kramer in the bookstore, as well as intelligence, such as when he decides in a Solomon-esque way to assign the rightful owner of the bicycle.
- Estelle Costanza (played by Estelle Harris) — George's nagging and often obnoxious mother
- Frank Costanza (played by Jerry Stiller) — George's hot-tempered, eccentric father
- Susan Ross (played by Heidi Swedberg) — George's ex-fiancée who dies from licking toxic envelopes, mailing her wedding invitations
- Helen Seinfeld (played by Liz Sheridan) — Jerry's quintessentially Jewish mother
- Morty Seinfeld (played by Phil Bruns and later by Barney Martin) — Jerry's father; a retired raincoat salesman
- Jacopo Peterman (played by John O'Hurley) — Elaine's eccentric and loquacious boss
- Mr. Steinbrenner (played by Lee Bear, voiced by Larry David) — George Costanza's boss while working for the Yankees-- a satire of real-life Yankees owner George Steinbrenner
- Uncle Leo (played by Len Lesser) — Jerry's unavoidable and annoying uncle
- David Puddy (played by Patrick Warburton) — Elaine's on-again/off-again boyfriend
- Mr. Wilhelm (played by Richard Herd) — George's superior at the New York Yankees
- Mr. Lippman (played by Richard Fancy) — Elaine's boss at Pendant Publishing; later owner of Top Of the Muffin To You!
- Mr. (Justin) Pitt (played by Ian Abercrombie) — an eccentric millionaire who hired Elaine as his personal assistant
- Jackie Chiles (played by Phil Morris) — Kramer's lawyer and parody of Johnnie Cochran
- Kenny Bania (played by Steve Hytner) — a stand-up comedy hack, and one of Jerry's nemeses
- "Crazy" Joe Davola (played by Peter Crombie) — a "lunatic" who stalks Elaine, George, Jerry and Kramer. At one point he tries to attack Jerry while yelling "Sic Semper Tyrannis!"
- Sue Ellen Mischke (played by Brenda Strong) - Elaine's rival, she is often referred to as "The Braless Wonder." She is also the heiress to the Oh Henry! candy bar fortune.
- Sally Weaver (played by Kathy Griffin) - In "The Doll" Susan's old roommate from college, Sally Weaver, gives Jerry a package that she wants him to be careful with. In "The Cartoon" Sally opens her stand-up one-woman show, Jerry Seinfeld Is the Devil.
- Bob Sacamano - Kramer's oft-referenced but never-appearing friend, who often is the source of bizarre anecdotal advice.
- Mr. Kruger (played by Daniel von Bargen) - George's boss at Kruger Industrial Smoothing.
One of the most controversial Seinfeld episodes, "The Contest", centers around a pact of self-denial between Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine. The four place a bet (with Elaine contributing a higher stake) on who can go the longest without masturbating. In the show, however, they were able to convey the meaning without actually using the word "masturbation". Kramer's early exit from the bet has become a classic moment in Seinfeld history, with his simple "I'm out!" as he slams his cash on the counter. This episode also features Jane Leeves (of Frasier fame) as "The Virgin", Jerry's girlfriend at the time.
Other classic moments include: Jerry's rant about the woman across the street, who struts around naked in her apartment, compromising his ability to remain "Master of His Domain" (and the same woman responsible for Kramer's early departure); Elaine's fascination with John F. Kennedy, Jr.; George's subtle introduction of the subject matter with the phrase, "My mother caught me"; and the "ease" with which the characters can sleep at night, depending on their current standing in the contest. It was revealed in "The Puffy Shirt" that George was the winner of The Contest, although in "The Finale" four years later, George admitted that he had cheated and that Jerry was the true master of his domain.
In a 2001 episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, during an argument between Larry David and Jason Alexander, it is mentioned that David participated in a contest exactly like this one, after Jason comments that that sort of thing would never happen. On the second DVD of the Season 4 Seinfeld collection, Kenny Kramer states that David did participate in such a contest and complained to him at the time about how difficult it was. On the third week, according to Kenny Kramer, David was the victor.
In the episode "The Bubble Boy", George claims "The Moops" is the answer to the Trivial Pursuit question, "Who invaded Spain in the 8th century?" The Bubble Boy contested the answer, claiming it was the Moors (which is correct). George, with his stubborn nature, in reaction to the belligerent arrogance of the Bubble Boy, and out of spite, refused to accept the response in favor of the (presumably misprinted) answer given by the card. This incident is based on an actual error spotted by one of the writers while playing the home edition of Jeopardy!.
The Junior Mint
Jerry accompanies Elaine on a hospital visit to a seriously ill ("something with his spleen") ex-boyfriend and artist, Roy (Sherman Howard), whom she broke up with because he was fat. Kramer tags along to steal latex gloves, and is invited by the surgeon to view the surgery. When his date cannot make it to the surgery, Kramer asks Jerry to join him. During the surgery, Kramer persistently offers Jerry a Junior Mint which he tries to paw away; instead, it flies over the viewing mezzanine, and falls into Roy's open abdominal cavity. The doctor notices something, but cannot figure out what, and closes the cavity. Roy's condition turns critical, and George decides to buy some of his triangle art thinking that if the artist dies, he could make a profit if the value of the art increases. However, Roy's condition significantly improves, something Roy credits to the fact that George bought his art. The doctor credits the upturn to "something beyond science, something, from above."
In the same episode as the Junior Mint, Jerry is dating an attractive woman whose name he cannot remember, though she told him her name rhymes with a part of the female anatomy. He spends the episode avoiding the use of her name, and trying to find ways to ascertain it, including digging in her purse and having his friends stop by, hoping she will introduce herself. Jerry and George try to guess the name, with choices of Bovary, Mulva, Loreola, Hest and Gipple. She finally realizes Jerry doesn't know her name, and breaks up with him, leaving his apartment in a huff. Jerry then suddenly remembers her name, and calls out to her from his window, "Dolores!" According to an interview with Castle Rock executive Glenn Padnick that is included on the Seinfeld Season Four DVD, the script originally called for Jerry to call out the name "Cloris." However, between scenes during the taping of the episode, the audience was asked what they thought the woman's name was, and an audience member answered with "Dolores". Padnick decided that this name was better than what the script had and went down to the stage and had the scene taped with the audience member's guess. The "mystery woman" was played by Susan Walters.
From the episode "The Fusilli Jerry". "The Move" refers to a complex sexual technique invented by Jerry that he shares with George with the promise that if George can master it he'll "never be alone again." Elaine's on/off boyfriend, Puddy, uses it on Elaine, leading Elaine to chastise Jerry for sharing intimate secrets with Puddy, a hallmark of male-bonding. The entire technique of The Move is never shared with the audience, leaving the audience to fill in the gaps themselves. George attempts to use it on his own girlfriend at the time, but she catches him with "crib notes" detailing the maneuvers written on his hand.
The Soup Nazi
In this episode, Jerry introduces George and Elaine to a soup restaurant run by a draconian owner, whom the customers have nicknamed "the Soup Nazi" (it is revealed in the last episode that the Soup Nazi's name is actually Yev Kassem). The restaurant is based on Soup Kitchen International in New York City. The owner enforces strict rules about ordering: State your order, then move quickly down the line with your money ready. Jerry coaches Elaine on the rules, but she disregards them, wasting the Soup Nazi's time and infuriating him. He kicks her out, yelling, "No soup for you!", which would become a catch phrase. The episode also includes a plot about an armoire that Elaine buys and then leaves on the street, asking Kramer to watch it. It is stolen right in front of him by a pair of effeminate, antique-loving men, who Kramer later refers to as "street toughs." Later, Elaine finds the Soup Nazi's recipes and distributes them widely in an act of vengeance, ruining his business. Larry Thomas received an Emmy nomination for his role as the Soup Nazi.
The Dry Heave
In the episode "The Little Kicks" Elaine performs her notorious "Full Body Dry Heave" dance in front of co-workers at a J. Peterman party. George (and later Jerry) exclaim "Sweet fancy Moses!" in reference to Elaine's dancing skill. Throughout the episode she is mercilessly mocked behind her back by co-workers; at first she believes George has caused her troubles, but later learns her dancing is at fault. The dance involves her hands in thumbs up mode and little kick-ups with her feet. She is eventually informed by Jerry through an unfortunate illegal video pirating incident.
From the Season Nine episode of the same title, it is a relaxation technique used by George's father, especially when arguing with Mrs. Costanza. It turns out to be quite ineffective, according to George's nemesis, Lloyd Braun, who spent time in a mental institution because he suppressed his own anger for years ("serenity now, insanity later"). Kramer tries using the technique but explodes anyway, destroying 25 computers that George had been storing in Kramer's apartment. Then George's father uses "Hoochie mama" while Mrs. Costanza tries to put her car into the garage.
Story Arcs and Themes
- "My boys can swim!" - George/Kramer, "The Fix-Up"
- "Maybe the dingo ate your baby!" - Elaine, "The Stranded"
- "These pretzels are making me thirsty!" - Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer; "The Alternate Side"
- "Not that there's anything wrong with that!" - Jerry, George, Kramer, Helen Seinfeld, Estelle Costanza; "The Outing"
- "I'm out!" - Cosmo Kramer; "The Contest"
- "Hello, Newman." - Jerry & Mrs. Seinfeld; several episodes, starting with "The Suicide"
- "Barring some unforseen incident..." - several characters, starting in Season 5
- "Yada, yada, yada." - Jerry, George, Elaine; "The Yada Yada"
- "No soup for you!" - The Soup Nazi; "The Soup Nazi"
- "The jerk store called, and they're running out of you!" - George, "The Comeback"
- "I proclaim this, the Summer of George!" - George, "The Summer of George"
- "I don't wanna be a pirate!" - Jerry, "The Puffy Shirt" also rephrased in following episodes
Criticism and Development
Seinfeld ran for nine seasons, one of the longest and most succesful runs for a sitcom in television history. While it never strayed from its basic premise of following four observant but neurotic New York City singles, and had plenty of devoted fans right up through the end, it was also widely criticized for losing its inspiration over time. As with any long-running series, the question of if and when the show "jumped the shark" is fiercely debated, with many differing opinions held.
In seasons 1 and 2, the show moved relatively slowly with more of an emphasis on real-life situations. Standout episodes included "The Deal", in which Jerry and Elaine try to add casual sex to their friendship, and "The Chinese Restaurant", which documented Jerry, Elaine and George waiting over twenty minutes to be seated for dinner. With its focus squarely on dialogue and everyday troubles, the show developed a cult following and glowing write-ups in the press. At the same time, viewership was fairly low and these episodes can seem lathargic to many viewers better acquainted with the later seasons.
Seasons 3-5 are generally considered to be Seinfeld’s "Golden Era," where it was lauded by critics for being intelligent and consistently funny. It was also becoming increasingly popular with viewers, and became known as a "watercooler show" , in that the previous nights' episode would commonly be talked-about around the workplace the next day (usually at the watercooler, between tasks.) Many of the series' most famous episodes, such as "The Parking Garage", "The Boyfriend", "The Contest", "The Outing" and "The Puffy Shirt", hail from this period, and catch-phrases like "are you master of your domain?" and "...not that there’s anything wrong with that" (from two aforementioned episodes) became pop culture staples. In the middle of its fourth season, NBC placed the show on Thursday nights at 9:30 pm, following Cheers. The following year, Seinfeld replaced the departed Cheers at 9:00, where it became the anchor of NBC's "Must See TV" lineup.
During season 6, the show received some criticism for being slightly wackier and faster-paced, relying heavily on incredible misunderstandings for its plot-twists, ala Three's Company; this coincided with a change in directors (Andy Ackerman replacing Tom Cherones) and what Jerry Seinfeld admitted was a slight creative drought - he told TV Guide that he and his writers were "crawling" by the seasons' end. The series still remained generally well-regarded, producing infamous episodes such as "The Fusilli Jerry" and "The Jimmy". Despite its continued success, the cast and crew publicly stated that the next season would be the series' last, a proclamation that would not come to pass.
At the beginning of season 7, there was a critical buzz that Seinfeld was returning to full form. This followed a drastic change in the writing staff, as well as the introduction of a story arc involving George Costanza's engagement. It also relaxed its pace a bit, and re-introduced the character of Susan Ross (one of the NBC executives from the pilot thread in season 4) as George's fiancée. Now-classic episodes such as "The Soup Nazi", "The Sponge" and "The Rye" followed, and it was decided that the series would continue indefinitely. As the seventh season came to a close, TV Guide devoted a front page cover asking, "Is Seinfeld the best comedy ever?" They answered the question in 2002 by naming Seinfeld the #1 TV show of all time. The renewed critical favor was spoiled somewhat with the season's final episode, "The Invitations", in which Susan is killed as a result of George's buying very old, very cheap wedding invitations with a toxic glue on the envelopes. All four characters reacted to news of her death with indifference, George even seeming slightly elated after about a minute, which many viewers found to be in exceedingly poor taste. The show didn't backpedal in the face of this mild uproar, even going so far as to mock the reaction in its eight season premiere, in which Jerry and George briefly get sentimental as they reflect on the death of Spock in a Star Trek movie - right after nonchalantly coming home from a visit to Susan's grave with her parents.
The beginning of season 8 marked the departure of co-creator and executive producer Larry David. Jerry Seinfeld admitted to TV Guide that Seinfeld would be "a different show" as a result of David's absence, and many viewers noticed a distinct change in the series' tone from this point on. Reality and continuity were largely abandoned in favor of more outlandish storylines; the humor was now rooted in slapstick, farce and occassionally pure fantasy. The opening stand-up comedy segments were also discarded, replaced by more conventional opening sketches at the beginning of each episode. Some of the earlier off-beat entries were greeted as weird but fun diversions, such as "The Bizarro Jerry", in which Elaine befriends exact opposites of Jerry, George and Kramer (a play on 'The Bizarro World' in Superman comics). As the season progressed however, and especially during Season 9, most critics felt the show had gotten too silly and cartoonish for its own good.
The New York Post took a poll during the 9th season, asking readers whether or not the series was as strong as it used to be, based on that season's first four episodes. More than half of those polled said that it was not up to its previous standards. Jerry Seinfeld responded with a letter to the Post thanking them for considering his show worthy enough for such a poll to be conducted.
Some fans argue that even as Seinfeld changed its comedic approach in later years, it remained funny and watchable. A few of the show's most popular plots and catch-phrases (Festivus, "Serenity Now") come from its final year, and the series never faced a decline in the Nielson ratings (always remaining in the Top 3 since its fifth season). It also managed to stir up one last controversy with its second-to-last episode, "The Puerto Rican Day", in which the gang gets stuck in traffic during New York City's annual Puerto Rican Day Parade. During the episode, Kramer accidentally lights a Puerto Rican flag on fire, which offended activist groups and led to the episode being barred from repeat airings and syndication.
Here is a list of Seinfeld's ratings per season throughout its nine-year run.
Season 1: Not in the top 30
Season 2: Not in the top 30
Season 3: Not in the top 30
Season 4: #25
Season 5: #3
Season 6: #1
Season 7: #2
Season 8: #2
Season 9: #1
On December 26, 1997, Jerry Seinfeld announced that the series would end production the following spring. While he had been making casual pronouncements of the series' demise frequently since about the sixth season, this was the first time he actually turned down an offer from NBC to sign on for another year. The announcement made the front page of all the major New York newspapers, including the New York Times. Seinfeld was featured on the cover of Time Magazine's first issue of 1998.
The end of Seinfeld garnered media hype that hadn't been seen since the end of Cheers in 1993, with many speculating how the series would end. Some suggested Jerry and Elaine would get married, and more cynical fans favored Julia Louis-Dreyfus's suggestion that the foursome die in a car accident after all their wishes come true. The producers of the show tweaked the media about the hype, spreading a false rumor about Newman ending up in the hospital and Jerry and Elaine sitting in a chapel, presumably to get married. The actual Finale poked fun at the many rumors that were circulating, with Elaine saying "I've always loved you" to Jerry (and eventually correcting herself, explaining that she was going to say "I've always loved United Airlines.") and the gang nearly getting into a plane crash.
The series ended with a 75 minute episode (cut down to 60 minutes in syndication, two parts) in which the "New York Four" are sentenced to one year in prison in Latham County, Massachusetts. After Jerry accepts a sitcom deal with NBC, the four decide to take NBC's private aircraft to Paris as a "last hurrah". They are delayed in Latham County after engine trouble (caused by Kramer hopping up and down, trying to get water out of his ears), and while killing time in town, they witness a fat man being robbed. Instead of helping him, they make wisecracks about his weight while Kramer videotapes the robbery. The victim sees them doing this, and mentions it to the reporting officer. All four are arrested for breaking a fictional Good Samaritan law that requires citizens to assist in such a situation. A lengthy trial ensues, bringing back many characters from past shows as character witnesses testifying against the group for their "selfish" acts from throughout the series. The Virgin, the low talker, the Bubble Boy, Babu Bhatt, the Soup Nazi, and Susan Ross' parents are called to the witness stand, among many more enemies and acquaintances. The four are eventually found guilty, and sentenced to a year in prison, with Judge Arthur Vandelay proclaiming: "I can think of nothing more fitting than for the four of you to spend a year removed from society so that you can contemplate the manner in which you have conducted yourselves."
In the final scene before the credits, the four main characters sit in a jail cell and begin a conversation about George's shirt buttons, using lines from the very first episode of the series ("The second button is the key button. It literally makes or breaks the shirt."). In a last bit of comedy during the credits, Jerry is seen wearing an orange prison suit, doing a stand-up routine of prison-related jokes. "So what is the deal with the yard? I mean when I was a kid my mother wanted me to play in the yard. But of course she didn't have to worry about my next door neighbor Tommy sticking a shiv in my thigh." He is eventually threatened by a heckler/fellow prisoner voiced by Larry David. The final line of the series is Jerry, being yanked off stage, saying, "Hey, you've been great. I'll see you in the cafeteria!"
The finale was not filmed in front of an audience, for the sake of keeping its plot secret, though a laugh track was later added. It was scripted by co-creator Larry David, who returned after a two-season hiatus. It also was the first episode since the 7th season to feature opening and closing stand-up acts by Jerry Seinfeld.
The final Seinfeld was criticized by many for being vindictive towards the characters - who are shown to be amoral, selfish misanthropes - and, by extension, towards the audience who tuned in to watch them every week. Some valued it for the perceived in-joke of the four characters being convicted and imprisoned on the charge that they did nothing, a play on the "show about nothing" mantra.
"The Chronicle" (the 45-minute clip show preceding the final episode) and "The Finale" garnered a 41.3 rating and a 58 share in the Nielsen Ratings, or about 76 million people. Seinfeld finished as the #1 most watched show of its final season. The only other shows to do so were I Love Lucy (in 1957) and The Andy Griffith Show (in 1968). It also broke a new world record in 30 sec Ad Cost on TV, $2 million for 30-sec ad back in 1998, which still stands today.
Cast careers after Seinfeld
Since the end of the program, Alexander has acted in film, theater and television, including guest appearances on Larry David's new HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. Louis-Dreyfus also appeared on Enthusiasm and has received on-screen and voice credits in television (such as Arrested Development) and animated film. Richards continues to appear in new film and television work as well.
Alexander, Louis-Dreyfus and Richards have all attempted unsuccessfully to launch new sitcoms as title-role characters. Despite decent acclaim and even some respectable ratings each show was cancelled quickly, usually within the first season. This has given rise to the term "Seinfeld Curse" to describe sitcom failure by an actor following massive success on an ensemble show, a phrase oft-used in reference to Matt LeBlanc's Friends spin-off Joey.
"It's so completely idiotic.... It's very hard to have a successful sitcom," Larry David once said of the curse.  Most new sitcoms do not enjoy the success of hits like Seinfeld, though David's Curb Your Enthusiasm went on to win Emmy awards; the series relied on his signature humor, embodied in the Seinfeld character of George.
The relevant shows were Jason Alexander's Bob Patterson and Listen Up!, Michael Richards' The Michael Richards Show, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Watching Ellie. Though most of the aforementioned shows did not last more than a season, Louis-Dreyfus' The New Adventures of Old Christine was her claim to having broken the Seinfeld curse; it lasted five seasons. However, it was cancelled by CBS in May 2010.
Patrick Warburton, who played David Puddy, was also hit by the curse when his superhero-themed show, The Tick, was cancelled after just one season. However, he has found success in voice acting. His repertoire includes the voice of Joe Swanson in Family Guy, Brock Samson in The Venture Bros and Kronk in The Emperor's New Groove. Lately he can be seen on ABC's show Less Than Perfect as Jeb Denton, and on CBS's Rules of Engagement as Jeff Bingham.
Alexander was also the voice of Duckman, which had a certain amount of success (although this series ran from 1994 until 1997, which coincided with the run of Seinfeld). Wayne Knight has since had some roles with more or less the same importance of Newman, like the one in the not so successful The Edge, and one as a police officer in 3rd Rock from the Sun. He also had a voice cameo as a minor demon from hell in Justice League Unlimited animated series, and achieved some success as the voice of the human villain Al in Toy Story 2 in 1999, a year after Seinfeld's finale. However, the actor who really broke the curse, at least for recurring guest stars, was Jerry Stiller who was cast successfully as Doug Heffernan's annoying father-in-law Arthur, in The King of Queens. In the summer of 2005, John O'Hurley, who played Jacopo Peterman in a recurring role on the final seasons of Seinfeld, received extensive publicity when he finished as the runner-up on the highly rated American ABC reality series Dancing With The Stars to Kelly Monaco.
A recurring feature of Seinfeld was its use of specific products as plot points, especially various candy products. These products might be a central feature of a plot narrative (e.g. Junior Mints, Twix and Pez), or associating the candy with a guest character (e.g. Oh Henry! bars), or simply discussing the merits of the candy in a conversational aside (e.g. Chuckles). Examples of non-candy products featured in Seinfeld are Rold Gold pretzels (whose advertisements at the time featured Jason Alexander), Kenny Rogers Roasters (a chicken restaurant chain), Drake's Coffee Cakes, Bosco, Snapple, Specialized Bicycles, Ovaltine, Arby's, TV Guide, the board game Risk, Entenmann's and the J. Peterman clothing catalog (which actually went bankrupt while the show was still active). The computers in Jerry's apartment are always Apple Computers, which were changed every few seasons.
While the show's creators claim that they themselves were not engaging in a product placement strategy for commercial gain, Seinfeld is widely credited by marketers and advertisers with affecting a change in attitude toward product placement in US primetime TV shows.  In general, product placement became much more frequent in TV shows after Seinfeld demonstrated that a successful show could work specific products into its plots and dialogue.
For details of a study on the effectiveness of product placement (without respect to whether it was paid for or intended to promote products), see "Television Programs and Advertising: Measuring the Effectiveness of Product Placement Within Seinfeld" by Dana T. Weaver of Penn State University.
Two types of advertising, neither of which were actual product placement, also capitalized on the Seinfeld show. One is described as a "Webisode," a reverse form of product placement. In this form, instead of inserting its product into an episode, American Express "inserted" Jerry Seinfeld and an animated Superman (voiced by Patrick Warburton, who also acted on the show, playing the role of David Puddy) into its commercial. The second type is the use of the show's actors, such as Jason Alexander in a Chrysler commercial. In this type, which ran after the series ended, Alexander behaves much like his character George, and his relationship with Lee Iacocca is said to play on his relationship with George Steinbrenner in the show.
A signature of Seinfeld is its theme music: distinct solo synthesized bass guitar "pickups" which open the show and connect the scenes. These short riffs were composed by Jonathan Wolff and are considered groundbreaking in their use as sitcom music. They vary throughout each episode, and are played in an improvised blues-funk style. An additional musical theme with an ensemble, led by a synthesized mid-range brass instrument, ends each episode.
Non-original music featured in the show:
- "Superman (Main Theme)" - John Williams - In "The Race" (Season 6, #10) and "The Chronicle, Part One" (Season 9, #177)
- "Manaña (Is Good Enough For Me)" - Jackie Davis - In "The Blood" (Season 9, #160).
- Theme from The Greatest American Hero () - In "The Susie" (Season 8, #149) ()
- "Morning Train (9 to 5)" - Sheena Easton - In "The Bizarro Jerry" (Season 8, #137) and "The Butter Shave" (Season 9, #157)
- "Slow Ride" - Foghat - In "The Slicer" (Season 9, #162). Elaine tunes into her bedside radio and offers up a few characteristic dance moves.
- "Downtown" - Petula Clark - in "The Bottle Deposit" (Season 7, #131). George looks for clues about his work assignment when Wilhelm mentions the song to him.
- "Wouldn't It Be Nice" - The Beach Boys - In "The Hamptons" (Season 5, #85).
- "Desperado" and "Witchy Woman" - Eagles - In "The Checks" (Season 8, #141)
- "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)" - Green Day - From the album "Nimrod"- In "The Chronicle, Part 2" (Season 9, #178).
- "(Once, Twice) Three Times a Lady" - The Commodores - In "The Pothole" (Season 8 #15).
- "Hello" - Lionel Richie - In "The Engagement" (Season 7, #1), "The Invitations" (Season 7, #24), "The Voice" (Season 9, #158).
- "Everybody's Talkin'" - Harry Nilsson - In "The Mom and Pop Store" (Season 6, #94).
- "Shining Star" - Earth, Wind & Fire - In "The Little Kicks" (Season 8, #138), (Season 9, "The Bookstore", #173). Elaine does the infamous dry heave dance to this.
- "Theme From The Godfather" - Nino Rota - In "The Bris" (Season 5, #69)
- "Mexican Radio" - Wall of Voodoo - In "The Reverse Peephole" (Season 9, #168).
- "Pagliacci: Vesti la Giubba" - Ruggiero Leoncavallo - In "The Opera" (Season 4, #49).
- Selected music from "The Barber of Seville" - Pierre Beaumarchais - In "The Barber" (Season 5)
Seinfeld won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1993; it was nominated for the award every year from 1992-1998 (seasons 3-9). The show has also won a Golden Globe Award for Best Comedy Series in 1994, the Peabody Award in 1993, the Television Critics Award" in 1992 and 1993, the Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy Series in 1995, 1997, and 1998, and the People's Choice Award for Favorite Television Comedy Series from 1997-1999.
- Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Comedy Series - 1994.
- Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series - 1993-1994, and 1997.
- Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series - 1996.
- Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series - 1997-1998
- Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress - 1994
- Screen Actors Guild Award in 1995 for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series - 1995
- Emmy Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series - "The Fix-Up" - Larry Charles and Elaine Pope (1991); "The Contest" - Larry David (1992);
- Writers Guild Award for Episodic Comedy - "The Contest" - Larry David (1994); "The Mango" - Lawrence H. Levy (teleplay/story), Larry David (teleplay) (1995); "The Pool Guy" - David Mandel (1997); "The Fatigues" - Gregg Kavet, Andy Robin (1998)
Seinfeld episodes have been collected on a series of DVDs. They are:
- "Seinfeld: Volume 1: Seasons 1&2" (2004) 3 slim case DVDs in cardboard box, (2012) standard DVD case clear
- "Seinfeld: Volume 2: Season 3" (2004) 3 slim case DVDs in cardboard box, (2012) standard DVD case clear
- "Seinfeld: Volume 3: Season 4" (2005) 3 slim case DVDs in cardboard box, (2012) standard DVD case clear
- "Seinfeld: Volume 4: Season 5" (2005) 3 slim case DVDs in cardboard box, (2012) standard DVD case clear
- "Seinfeld: Volume 5: Season 6" (2005) 3 slim case DVDs in cardboard box, (2012) standard DVD case clear
- "Seinfeld: Volume 6: Season 7" 3 slim case DVDs in cardboard box, (2012) standard DVD case clear
- "Seinfeld: Volume 7: Season 8" 3 slim case DVDs in cardboard box, (2012) standard DVD case clear
- "Seinfeld: Volume 8: Season 9" (2007) 3 slim case DVDs in cardboard box, (2012) standard DVD case clear
- Fretts, Bruce. The Entertainment Weekly Seinfeld Companion. New York: Warner Books. 1993. ISBN 0446670367.
- William Irwin (Ed.). Seinfeld and Philosophy: A Book about Everything and Nothing. Peru, Illinois: Open Court Publishing Company. 1999. ISBN 0812694090.
- Gantz, Katherine. "Not That There's Anything Wrong with That": Reading the Queer in Seinfeld. In Calvin Thomas (Ed.). Straight with a Twist: Queer Theory and the Subject of Heterosexuality. Champaign. Illinois: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252068130.
- Gattuso, Greg. The Seinfeld Universe: The Entire Domain. New York: Citadel Press. 1996. ISBN 0806520019.
- Rosenthal, Phil (November 18, 2004). Gold, Jerry! Gold! Chicago Sun Times.
- Seinfeld, Jerry. Sein Language. Bantam. 1993. ISBN 0553096060.
- Weaver, D.T. & Oliver, M.B. (2000) Summary of the paper,"Television Programs and Advertising: Measuring the Effectiveness of Product Placement Within Seinfeld".