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10 Facts About Seinfeld’s 'The Finale'

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On May 14, 1998, NBC aired the two-part series finale of Seinfeld, simply named “The Finale,” written by Seinfeld co-creator Larry David. The show had been on the airwaves for nine seasons and had taped 180 episodes (including the final two episodes). About 76.3 million viewers tuned in to watch Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), Kramer (Michael Richards), and George (Jason Alexander) end up in jail, in fictional Latham, Massachusetts. The series remains the fourth most-watched series finale ever, behind M*A*S*H. (1983), Cheers (1993), and The Fugitive (1967).

The polarizing finale sees NBC finally giving George and Jerry the greenlight to their pilot, Jerry. To celebrate his and George’s pending move to L.A., Jerry invites the gang to take the NBC private jet anywhere they want to go for “one big fling.” They choose Paris. But on the way, Kramer knocks into the cockpit and causes the plane to make an emergency landing in Latham for repairs.

While walking around the town, the gang watches an overweight citizen get mugged and carjacked. Kramer films it, and they all make fun of the victim instead of helping him. Turns out, their indifference violated the Good Samaritan law and they're arrested and sent to trial.

The finale was an excuse to bring back Seinfeld’s greatest hits characters, everyone from the Soup Nazi to Puddy to Marla the Virgin. The series ends with the four convicted and having to serve a year in a jail so that they can be “removed from society.” The final scene reveals Jerry bombing during a stand-up set in prison.

Though critics and fans panned the finale, it has actually aged pretty well. The finale was prescient in debating cellphone etiquette and how in America “we don’t have to help anybody.” Because the characters never learned from their lessons nor changed, them ending up in jail for crimes against humanity seems apropos. On the 20th anniversary of its sign-off, here are 10 facts about "The Finale."

1. THE SERIES BEGINS AND ENDS WITH A DISCUSSION ABOUT SHIRT BUTTONS.

On July 5, 1989, NBC aired the pilot, back when the show was called The Seinfeld Chronicles. The first dialogue occurs between George and Jerry at a restaurant, where Jerry declares that the second button on a shirt “literally makes or breaks a shirt. It’s too high." During the series finale’s final moments, while the gang sits in jail, Jerry again brings up the button conversation, but this time George asks, “Haven’t we had this conversation before?”

2. LARRY DAVID THINKS THE FINALE IS “CLEVER.”

In 2014, David talked to Grantland’s Bill Simmons about how disappointed people were with the finale, and how much “grief” David received for it. “I was not interested in an emotional ride, and neither was Jerry,” David said. “No wonder why they would dislike it, yeah. But let me toot my own horn for a second. I thought it was clever to bring back all those characters in a courtroom and testify against them for what they did, and then show those clips, and also for why they even got arrested in the first place. And then to wind up—forget the self-aggrandizement here—I thought it was clever."

3. JERRY SEINFELD MADE SURE JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS’S JOKE ON THE DAVID LETTERMAN FINALE WORKED.

On May 20, 2015, Letterman aired the final episode of his talk show, Late Show with David Letterman. During a Top Ten List segment, Louis-Dreyfus—who had flown all the way to New York to deliver a joke alongside Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Jim Carrey, and Steve Martin—delivered the burn, “Thanks for letting me take part in another hugely disappointing series finale.” Seinfeld told Vulture’s "Good One" podcast that he “fought hard for that particular joke.” The writers wanted to use a different joke, but Louis-Dreyfus didn’t think it worked. “I read the joke and I go, ‘No, that’s a bad joke,’” Seinfeld said. “It was a really cool experience to be on Dave’s last show and I didn’t want her to go out there and tank.” He mulled it over with the writers and they agreed on the joke, “which was sensational,” Seinfeld said.

4. SEINFELD CHANGED HIS MIND ABOUT "THE FINALE."

In a 2014 Reddit AMA, Seinfeld said: “I was happy with the Seinfeld finale, because we didn’t want to do another episode as much as we wanted to have everybody come back to the show we had so much fun with. It was a way to thank all of the people who worked on the show over the years that we thought made the show work. I don’t believe in trying to change the past, but I’m very happy with it.”

However, in October 2017, during an interview at the New Yorker Festival, Seinfeld seemed to have changed his opinion on the finale. “I sometimes think we really shouldn’t have even done it,” he said. “There was a lot of pressure on us at that time to do one big last show, but big is always bad in comedy.”

5. JASON ALEXANDER THINKS THE FINALE WAS A “GOOD, NOT GREAT EPISODE.”

In an interview with Emmy TV Legends, Alexander discussed the finale. “For me, I thought it was a good episode, not a great episode, as written,” he said. “I thought it was a good idea.” He liked how David brought back so many popular characters. “They all added to our baby and then they went away,” Alexander said. “We never really say thank you. We never really got to be with them and Larry found a way to bring them back. Everybody who had been a meaningful part of our success was back to be with us at the end. So the atmosphere all week long was joyous and sentimental in a way that had never been."

6. DAVID CHASE THINKS THE SOPRANOS AND SEINFELD SHOULD’VE SWAPPED FINALES.

In a 2012 interview with The New York Times, The Sopranos creator David Chase discussed how to end a series the right way. “It’s just very difficult to end a series,” he said. “For example, Seinfeld, they ended it with them all going to jail. Now that’s the ending we should have had. And they should have had ours, where it blacked out in a diner.”

7. THE FINAL TAPING WAS AN OVERWHELMINGLY EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE FOR THE CAST.

Right before the four main cast members taped the final episodes in front of a studio audience, they did one last Circle of Power huddle, something they did before every show in which the cast held hands and grunted. During the final Circle of Power, Seinfeld gave a speech. “Jerry goes, ‘I want to say something,’” Alexander said. “He said: ‘For the rest our lives, when anyone thinks of one of us, they will think of all four of us. And I can’t think of three people I’d rather have that be true of.’ I’m gone, Julia’s gone. And now the cast—we came running out, and we must look like we got hit by a truck. That was a huge thing. It was true. We had been through a rough year and that was a big gesture on his part.”

Louis-Dreyfus—who liked the finale—also felt a similar way about Seinfeld’s words. “I was so caught by surprise by the emotion,” she told Emmy TV Legends. “I knew I’d be emotional, but I didn’t understand the profundity of it. It was a very sweet and dear moment.”

8. DAVID BLAMES FANS FOR WRITING THE FINALE IN THEIR HEADS.

“I think the thing about finales is everybody writes their own finale in their head, whereas if they just tune in during the week to a normal show, they’re surprised by what’s going on,” David told Grantland. “They haven’t written it beforehand, they don’t know what the show is. But for a finale, they go, ‘Oh, well this should happen to George, and Jerry and Elaine should get together,’ and all that. They’ve already written it, and often they’re disappointed, because it’s not what they wrote.”

9. RUDY GIULIANI WOULDN’T LET SEINFELD THROW A PARTY IN TIMES SQUARE.

NBC liked the idea of throwing a series-end party in Times Square. They wanted to air the finale and clips from the show on the Square’s giant Astrovision video screen, and they also wanted to close off part of the street. They applied for a permit, but the city rejected it, saying “it would be too disruptive to traffic.”

10. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM REVISITED “THE FINALE.”

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jerry Seinfeld, Jason Alexander, and Michael Richards in Seinfeld's "The Finale"
NBC

During the seventh season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, David reunited the cast of Seinfeld for a fictional reunion special. Seinfeld, Alexander, Louis-Dreyfus, and Richards play versions of themselves. On November 22, 2009, Curb aired its season finale, featuring the Seinfeld special. George has married (then divorced) a woman named Amanda, and he got rich (then lost his money) from inventing an app called the iToilet. Jerry and Elaine have a daughter, but the daughter doesn’t know Jerry is her father. Seinfeld, playing himself, jokes to David, “We already screwed up one finale.”

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10 Things You Might Not Know About Steve Martin
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

Is there anything Steve Martin can't do? In addition to being one of the world's most beloved comedians and actors, he's also a writer, a musician, a magician, and an art enthusiast. And he's about to put a number of these talents on display with Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life, a new comedy special that just arrived on Netflix. To commemorate the occasion, here are 10 things you might not have known about Steve Martin.

1. HE WAS A CHEERLEADER.

As a yellleader (as he refers to it in a yearbook signature) at his high school in Garden Grove, California, Martin tried to make up his own cheers, but “Die, you gravy-sucking pigs,” he later told Newsweek, did not go over so well.

2. HIS FIRST JOB WAS AT DISNEYLAND.

Martin’s first-ever job was at Disneyland, which was located just two miles away from his house. He started out selling guidebooks, keeping $.02 for every book he sold. He graduated to the Magic Shop on Main Street, where he got his first taste of the gags that would later make his career. He also learned the rope tricks you see in ¡Three Amigos! from a rope wrangler over in Frontierland.

3. HE OWES HIS WRITING JOB WITH THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS TO AN EX-GIRLFRIEND.

Thanks to a girlfriend who got a job dancing on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Martin landed a gig writing for the show. He had absolutely no experience as a writer at the time. He shared an office with Bob Einstein—better known to some as Super Dave Osborne or Marty Funkhauser—and won an Emmy for writing in 1969.

4. HE WAS A CONTESTANT ON THE DATING GAME.

While he was writing for the Smothers Brothers, but before he was famous in his own right, Martin was on an episode of The Dating Game. (Spoiler alert: He wins. But did you have any doubt?)

5. MANY PEOPLE THOUGHT HE WAS A SERIES REGULAR ON SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.

Martin hosted and did guest spots on Saturday Night Live so often in the 1970s and '80s that many people thought he was a series regular. He wasn't. 

6. HIS FATHER WROTE A REVIEW OF HIS FIRST SNL APPEARANCE.

After his first appearance on SNL, Martin’s father, the president of the Newport Beach Association of Realtors, wrote a review of his son’s performance in the company newsletter. “His performance did nothing to further his career,” the elder Martin wrote. He also once told a newspaper, “I think Saturday Night Live is the most horrible thing on television.”

7. HE POPULARIZED THE AIR QUOTE.

If you find yourself making air quotes with your fingers more than you’d really like, you have Martin to thank. He popularized the gesture during his guest spots on SNL and stand-up performances.

8. HE QUIT STAND-UP COMEDY IN THE EARLY 1980S.

Martin gave up stand-up comedy in 1981. “I still had a few obligations left but I knew that I could not continue,” he told NPR in 2009. “But I guess I could have continued if I had nothing to go to, but I did have something to go to, which was movies. And you know, the act had become so known that in order to go back, I would have had to create an entirely new show, and I wasn't up to it, especially when the opportunity for movies and writing movies came around.”

9. HE'S A MAJOR ART COLLECTOR.

As an avid art collector, Martin owns works by Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, and Edward Hopper. He sold a Hopper for $26.9 million in 2006. Unfortunately, being rich and famous doesn’t mean Martin is immune to scams: In 2004, he spent about $850,000 on a piece believed to be by German-Dutch modernist painter Heinrich Campendonk. When Martin tried to sell the piece, “Landschaft mit Pferden” (or "Landscape With Horses") 15 months later, he was informed that it was a forgery. Though the painting still sold, it was at a huge loss.

10. HE'S AN ACCOMPLISHED BLUEGRASS PERFORMER.

Many people already know this, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that he’s an extremely accomplished bluegrass performer. With the help of high school friend John McEuen, who later became a member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Martin taught himself to play the banjo when he was 17. He's been picking away ever since. If you see him on stage these days, he’s likely strumming a banjo with his band, the Steep Canyon Rangers. As seen above, they make delightful videos.

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Star Wars Premiered 41 Years Ago … and the Reviews Weren’t Always Kind
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

A long time ago (41 years, to be exact) in a galaxy just like this one, George Lucas was about to make cinematic history—whether he knew it or not. On May 25, 1977, moviegoers got their first glimpse of Star Wars, Lucas’s long-simmering space opera that would help define the concept of the Hollywood “blockbuster.” While we're still talking about the film today, and its many sequels and spinoffs (hello, Solo), not every film critic would have guessed just how ingrained into the pop culture fabric Star Wars would become. While it charmed plenty of critics, some of the movie’s original reviews were less than glowing. Here are a few of our favorites (the good, the bad, and the Wookiee):

"Star Wars is a fairy tale, a fantasy, a legend, finding its roots in some of our most popular fictions. The golden robot, lion-faced space pilot, and insecure little computer on wheels must have been suggested by the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. The journey from one end of the galaxy to another is out of countless thousands of space operas. The hardware is from Flash Gordon out of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the chivalry is from Robin Hood, the heroes are from Westerns and the villains are a cross between Nazis and sorcerers. Star Wars taps the pulp fantasies buried in our memories, and because it's done so brilliantly, it reactivates old thrills, fears, and exhilarations we thought we'd abandoned when we read our last copy of Amazing Stories."

—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

Star Wars is not a great movie in that it describes the human condition. It simply is a fun picture that will appeal to those who enjoy Buck Rogers-style adventures. What places it a sizable cut about the routine is its spectacular visual effects, the best since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001Star Wars is a battle between good and evil. The bad guys (led by Peter Cushing and an assistant who looks like a black vinyl-coated frog) control the universe with their dreaded Death Star."

—Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

Star Wars is like getting a box of Cracker Jack which is all prizes. This is the writer-director George Lucas’s own film, subject to no business interference, yet it’s a film that’s totally uninterested in anything that doesn’t connect with the mass audience. There’s no breather in the picture, no lyricism; the only attempt at beauty is in the double sunset. It’s enjoyable on its own terms, but it’s exhausting, too: like taking a pack of kids to the circus. An hour into it, children say that they’re ready to see it again; that’s because it’s an assemblage of spare parts—it has no emotional grip. “Star Wars” may be the only movie in which the first time around the surprises are reassuring…. It’s an epic without a dream. But it’s probably the absence of wonder that accounts for the film’s special, huge success. The excitement of those who call it the film of the year goes way past nostalgia to the feeling that now is the time to return to childhood."

—Pauline Kael, The New Yorker

"The only way that Star Wars could have been interesting was through its visual imagination and special effects. Both are unexceptional ... I kept looking for an 'edge,' to peer around the corny, solemn comic-book strophes; he was facing them frontally and full. This picture was made for those (particularly males) who carry a portable shrine within them of their adolescence, a chalice of a Self that was Better Then, before the world's affairs or—in any complex way—sex intruded."

—Stanley Kauffmann, The New Republic

“There’s something depressing about seeing all these impressive cinematic gifts and all this extraordinary technological skills lavished on such puerile materials. Perhaps more important is what this seems to accomplish: the canonization of comic book culture which in turn becomes the triumph of the standardized, the simplistic, mass-produced commercial artifacts of our time. It’s the triumph of camp—that sentiment which takes delight in the awful simply because it’s awful. We enjoyed such stuff as children, but one would think there would come a time when we might put away childish things.”

—Joy Gould Boyum, The Wall Street Journal

Star Wars … is the most elaborate, most expensive, most beautiful movie serial ever made. It’s both an apotheosis of Flash Gordon serials and a witty critique that makes associations with a variety of literature that is nothing if not eclectic: Quo Vadis?, Buck Rogers, Ivanhoe, Superman, The Wizard of Oz, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, the legend of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table … The way definitely not to approach Star Wars, though, is to expect a film of cosmic implications or to footnote it with so many references that one anticipates it as if it were a literary duty. It’s fun and funny.”

—Vincent Canby, The New York Times

"Viewed dispassionately—and of course that’s desperately difficult at this point in time—Star Wars is not an improvement on Mr Lucas’ previous work, except in box-office terms. It isn’t the best film of the year, it isn’t the best science fiction ever to be translated to the screen, it isn’t a number of other things either that sweating critics have tried to turn it into when faced with finding some plausible explanation for its huge and slightly sinister success considering a contracting market. But it is, on the other hand, enormous and exhilarating fun for those who are prepared to settle down in their seats and let it all wash over them.”

—Derek Malcolm, The Guardian

“Strip Star Wars of its often striking images and its high-falutin scientific jargon, and you get a story, characters, and dialogue of overwhelming banality, without even a ‘future’ cast to them. Human beings, anthropoids, or robots, you could probably find them all, more or less like that, in downtown Los Angeles today. Certainly the mentality and values of the movie can be duplicated in third-rate non-science fiction of any place or period. O dull new world!”

—John Simon, New York Magazine

"Star Wars is somewhat grounded by a malfunctioning script and hopelessly infantile dialogue, but from a technical standpoint, it is an absolutely breathtaking achievement. The special effects experts who put Lucas' far-out fantasies on film—everything from a gigantic galactic war machine to a stunningly spectacular World War II imitation dogfight—are Oscar-worthy wizards of the first order. And, for his own part, Lucas displays an incredibly fertile imagination—an almost Fellini-like fascination with bizarre creatures.”

—Kathleen Carroll, New York Daily News

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