Why Jerry Seinfeld Turned Down $110 Million for Another Season of "Seinfeld"

The comedian once said he "could've gotten even more."

Revolving around four self-absorbed, single New Yorkers, the NBC comedy Seinfeld became the biggest sitcom hit of the '90s. Along the way, its co-creator and star, Jerry Seinfeld, set a new standard for primetime salaries. But when NBC was eager to make a deal for a tenth season of Seinfeld, he walked away from it all, turning down a reported $110 million payday. Read on for details on the decision and why he later said he thought it would make him "a legend."

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Seinfeld's initial salary was unremarkable.

When the show originally called The Seinfeld Chronicles first premiered in 1989, Seinfeld was already a respected stand-up comedian with a loyal following. However, in its early days, the show's budget was modest, and the main cast members, including its namesake star, earned a relatively humble salary of around $20,000 per episode, according to Parade.

Seinfeld was the first star to pocket $1 million per episode.

Jerry Seinfeld in 2001
Mario Tama/Getty Images

It wasn't until it was scheduled to follow Cheers in 1993 that the show grew into the pop culture phenomenon it still is. As audience numbers surged, the show's success allowed for substantial salary increases for its lead actors. By the time the show entered its sixth season, its lead cast members—Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, and Michael Richards—negotiated groundbreaking contracts. Seinfeld, in particular, made television history by becoming the first actor to earn $1 million per episode, a sum matched by the show's other leads (albeit at the cost of the show's massive royalties) by its final season, according to The Globe and Mail.

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

He walked away from "more money than has ever been offered."

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

Seinfeld certainly didn't end after Season 9 because the network wanted it to. When talks for a tenth season began, Seinfeld was offered what one anonymous executive described to The New York Times at the time as "more money than has ever been offered before to a television star."

In 2012, former NBC president Warren Littlefield told Fox News exactly how much money that was: $5 million per episode, or $110 million for the season.

"We didn't mess around," he said. "What we put on the table was unheard of. We went in there with a staggering sum and there was tremendous confidence that no one could walk away from it. [Seinfeld] came to me and said, 'I don't have a life, I'm not married, I don't have kids.' We gave it everything we had, he was tempted, but in the end it was a quality of life decision."

Walking away from the proposed deal, Seinfeld announced the series' ninth season would be its last on Dec. 26, 1997.

He said he could have negotiated for even more.

In a 2013 interview, Howard Stern asked Seinfeld to confirm Littlefield's claims about the $110 million offer.

"I could've gotten more than that," the standup star replied. But comparing the show to a comedian who stops before the audience tires of the bit, he went on to say that the choice was a matter of good timing. "The love affair between the people that were making the show and the audience was so intense, it was so white-hot, I had to respect that. And I could not go to that point where it starts to age and wither," Seinfeld explained.

Going out on a high note, the show's May 14, 1998 finale nearly matched the ratings of the Super Bowl, per The New York Times. "I wanted it to end with a fireworks burst of 'it never was bad,'" Seinfeld explained to Stern. Yet, despite its ratings, the finale was and continues to be divisive, and the star has admitted that he would probably end the show differently today.

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He's still raking it in.

Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld in 2022
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for WSJ. Magazine Innovators Awards

However, Seinfeld's record-breaking continued even after the show's finale. In 1998, Turner Broadcasting paid a record $1 million per episode to air the show in syndication, according to Time, and 12 years later, Viacom was still willing to pay more than $200k per episode to play reruns. Hulu and then Netflix would later pay a respective $130-$180 million and $500 million for streaming rights at different times.

Seinfeld himself has continued to lock in lucrative deals too, including a 2017 deal with Netflix for two standup specials and the series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, which reportedly garnered the comedian around $100 million, per Business Insider. All told, his estimated net worth is now around $950 million, according to Inc., proving that turning down that tenth season didn't hurt him one bit.

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