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Jerry Seinfeld "Created a Rift" in "Seinfeld" Cast Over Money, Jason Alexander Said

There were tense financial negotiations before and after the show's final season.

The cast of Seinfeld changed the game for sitcom actor salaries with record-breaking contracts that would pave the way for stars of hit shows including Friends and Two and a Half Men to also earn astronomical sums. But not every cast member was paid the same. Jerry Seinfeld had a different deal from co-stars Jason AlexanderJulia Louis-Dreyfus, and Michael Richards, as a co-creator of the sitcom, not just its star. Alexander claimed years after the show went off the air that Seinfeld "created a rift" among the cast with a particular disparity. Read on to find out what the George Costanza actor thought was so unfair about the other three main cast members' compensation and what their relationships with Seinfeld are like today.

RELATED: Jason Alexander Said Seinfeld Guest Star Was "Impossible" to Work With.

Seinfeld out-earned his colleagues—by a lot.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jerry Seinfeld in 1993
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

At the beginning of Seinfeld's run, the titular star earned a mere $20,000 per episode. As its success grew, he eventually grew that to $100,000, $500,000, and finally $1 million per episode, making him the highest-paid sitcom star at the time, per Cosmopolitan. While his castmates also saw salary increases over the show's run, they continued to lag Seinfeld. But what created a major gap between him and Alexander, Richards, and Louis-Dreyfus were the ownership stakes that both he and co-creator Larry David have in the show—originally 7.5 percent, they later negotiated to these to 15 percent each, per Boss Hunting.

The other cast members got a big raise in Season 9.

 Michael Richards, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander in 1993
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Alexander, Richards, and Louis-Dreyfus saw their biggest payday at the end of the show's run—but not before some highly contentious negotiations, according to a 1997 Variety article. Preparing for the show's ninth season, Seinfeld described its other stars as "free agents," which meant they were welcome to renegotiate their salaries or quit if they didn't feel like they were being fairly compensated. This gave them the power to ask for their own million per episode, ultimately negotiating an increase from their Season 8 salary of around $150,000 an episode to approximately $600,000 per episode for the final season, per Entertainment Weekly. That means they each pulled in more than $13 million across the 22 episodes of the show's swan song.

RELATED: David Letterman Admitted Affairs With Staffers After Being Blackmailed.

Alexander said that Seinfeld "created a rift" in the cast.

Jason Alexander and Michael Richards in 1993
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Years later, Alexander revealed that the $600,000 per episode salary for Season 9 was only reached by giving up what the cast members really wanted: a percentage of future royalties—payments on the profits made when the show was sold into reruns or released on physical media.

"Julia, Michael and I, during our big renegotiation for the final year, asked for something that I will go to my grave saying we should have had, and that is back-end participation in the profits for the show," Alexander told The Globe and Mail in 2004. "It was categorically denied to us, which forced us to then ask for ungodly salaries."

Alexander said that he spoke to Seinfeld—who, as a co-creator, did receive back-end profits—about the gap this created between him and his castmates during those negotiations. "'You have created a rift between you and the three of us, and while we are in no way, shape or form looking for parity with you, you have created a chasm that is also inappropriate,'" he said he told his co-star.

According to Vulture, the show has generated a whopping $3.1 billion since entering syndication and Seinfeld and David have earned as much as $400 million from a syndication cycle. As for the show's other stars? "We make very little, standard Screen Actors Guild residuals for the reruns," Alexander noted in The Globe and Mail, estimating that the other three main cast members had "probably individually seen about a quarter of a million dollars out of residuals" at the time.

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They pushed back against recording new material for a boxed set.

Michael Richards, Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in 1995
Vince Bucci/AFP via Getty Images

Tensions around the gap came to a head across 2003 and 2004, when Castle Rock Television set out to release a boxed set of DVDs for the series, per The Globe and Mail. Alexander, Louis-Dreyfus, and Richards were asked to participate in commentaries and additional material for the release but initially declined. A December 2003 article in The New York Times, reported that "people close to" the trio had noted this was "because they were unhappy with the financial deals they have had with the show over the years."

The proposed deal for the DVD set was likewise disappointing, one cast member told the newspaper. "I innocently asked a question. Is there some compensation? I don't believe there is. There isn't anything," Richards said to The New York Times. Meanwhile, a representative for the three actors told the outlet that Castle Rock executives "were only willing to give a small recording fee to the three of them and not a piece of the action."

Richards also told The New York Times that Seinfeld, who recorded commentary tracks with David for two episodes included in the first DVD release, did not reach out to discuss the matter when he first learned his former co-stars had declined to participate. "I said, 'Why didn't you call me?' He said, 'I should have,'" the actor claimed.

RELATED: 6 "Canceled" Celebrities Who Were Never Heard From Again.

They eventually reached "a happy arrangement."

Jason Alexander, Michael Richards, and Jerry Seinfeld in 2015
Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Baby Buggy

Fortunately, an agreement was reached that got Alexander, Louis-Dreyfus, and Richards on board with the DVD release—including the recording of new interviews featuring the entire main cast—per The Globe and Mail. After months of negotiations, they settled on an undisclosed deal that would give them a percentage of DVD royalties. Alexander called this "a happy arrangement" because they "didn't really want to create this sort of negative impression of [their] experience."

It seems that the hatchet has long since been buried. The cast have reunited over the years for Seinfeld-related events and other projects, including all three co-stars appearing on episodes of Seinfeld's Netflix series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller is a pop culture writer living in New York. Read more
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