10 Facts About Seinfeld’s 'The Finale'

NBC
NBC

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.”

8 Haunting Horror Movie Gimmicks

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In the 1950s and 1960s, horror movies were making studios huge profits on shoestring budgets. But after the market hit horror overload, directors and studios had to be extra creative to get people to flock to theaters. That's when a flood of different gimmicks were introduced at movie theaters across the country to make a film stand out from the crowd. From hypnotists to life insurance policies and free vomit bags, here's a brief history of some of the most memorable horror movie gimmicks.

1. PSYCHO-RAMA // MY WORLD DIES SCREAMING (1958)

In order to truly become a classic, a horror movie can't just work on the surface; it has to get deep inside of your head. That's what Psycho-Rama tried to achieve when it was first conceived for My World Dies Screaming, later renamed Terror in the Haunted House. Psycho-Rama introduced audiences to subliminal imagery in order to let the scares sink in more than any traditional film could.

Skulls, snakes, ghoulish faces, and the word "Death" would all appear onscreen for a fraction of a second—not long enough for an audience member to consciously notice it, but it was enough to get them uneasy. Obviously Psycho-Rama didn't really catch on with the public or the film industry, but horror directors, like William Friedkin in The Exorcist, have since gone on to use this quick imagery technique to enhance their own movies.

2. FRIGHT INSURANCE // MACABRE (1958)

Director William Castle didn't make a name for himself in the film industry by directing cinematic classics; instead, he relied on shock and schlock to help fill movie theater seats. His movies were full of what audiences craved at the time: horror, gore, terror, suspense, and a heaping helping of camp. But his true genius came from marketing—and the gimmicks he brought to every movie, which have since become legendary among horrorphiles.

His most famous stunt was the life insurance policy he purchased for every member of an audience that paid to see Macabre. This was a real policy backed by Lloyd's of London, so if you died of fright in your seat, your family would receive $1000. Now who wouldn't want to roll the dice on that type of deal? Of course, the policy didn't cover anyone with a preexisting medical condition or an audience member who committed suicide during the screening. Lloyd's had to draw the line somewhere, right?

3. HYPNO-VISTA // HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959)

How do you make your routine horror movie stand out from the crowd? Hypnotize your audience, of course. Thus Hypno-Vista was born. For this gimmick, James Nicholson, president of American International Pictures, suggested that a lecture by a hypnotist, Dr. Emile Franchel, should precede Horrors of the Black Museum, which had a plot focusing on a hypnotizing killer.

For 13 minutes, Dr. Franchel talked to the audience about the science behind hypnotism, before attempting to hypnotize them himself in order to feel more immersed in the story. Nowadays it comes off as overlong and dry, but it was a gimmick that got people into theaters back in 1959. Plus, writer Herman Cohen said that eventually the lecture had to be removed whenever the movie re-aired on TV because it did, in fact, hypnotize some people.

4. NO LATE ADMISSION // PSYCHO (1960)

Though this isn't the most gimmickiest of gimmicks, Alfred Hitchcock's insistence that no audience member be admitted into Psycho once the movie started got a lot of publicity at the time. The Master of Suspense's reasoning is less about drumming up publicity and more about audience satisfaction, though. Because Janet Leigh gets killed so early into the movie, he didn't want people to miss her part and feel misled by the movie's marketing.

This publicity tactic wasn't completely novel, though, as the groundbreaking French horror movie Les Diaboliques (1955) had a similar policy in place. This was at a time when people would simply stroll into movie screenings whenever they wanted, so to see a director—especially one so masterful at the art of publicity—who was adamant about showing up on time was a great way to pique some interest.

5. FRIGHT BREAK // HOMICIDAL (1961)

Another classic William Castle gimmick was the "fright break" he offered to audience members during his 1961 movie, Homicidal. Here, a timer would appear on the screen just as the film was hurtling toward its gruesome climax. Frightened audience members had 45 seconds to leave the theater and still get a full refund on their ticket. There was a catch, though.

Frightened audience members who decided to take the easy way out were shamed into the "coward's corner," which was a yellow cardboard booth supervised by some poor sap theater employee. Then, they were forced to sign a paper reading "I'm a bona-fide coward," before getting their money back. Obviously, at the risk of such humiliation, most people decided to just grit their teeth and experience the horror on the screen instead.

6. THE PUNISHMENT POLL // MR. SARDONICUS (1961)

The most interactive of William Castle's schlocky horror gimmicks put the fate of the film itself into the hands of the audience. Dubbed the "punishment poll," Castle devised a way to let viewers vote on the fate of the characters in the movie Mr. Sardonicus. Upon entering the theater, people were given a card with a picture of a thumb on it that would glow when a special light was placed on it. "Thumbs up" meant that Mr. Sardonicus would be given mercy, and "thumbs down" meant … well, you get the idea.

Apparently audiences never gave ol' Sardonicus the thumbs up, despite Castle's claims that the happier ending was filmed and ready to go. However, no alternative ending has ever surfaced, leaving many to doubt his claims. Chances are, there was only one way out for Mr. Sardonicus.

7. FREE VOMIT BAGS // MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970)

Horror fans are mostly masochists at heart. They don't want to be entertained—they want to be terrified. So when the folks behind 1970's Mark of the Devil gave out free vomit bags to the audience due to the film's grotesque nature, how could any self-respecting horror fan not be intrigued? It wasn't just the bags that the studio was advertising; it also claimed the film was rated V, for violence—and maybe some vomit?

8. DUO-VISION // WICKED, WICKED (1973)

Duo-Vision was hyped as the new storytelling technique in cinema—offering two times the terror for the price of one ticket. Of course Duo-Vision is just fancy marketing lingo for split-screen, meaning audiences see a film from two completely different perspectives side-by-side. In the 1973 horror film Wicked, Wicked, that meant watching the movie from the points of view of both the killer and his victims.

Seems like a perfect concept for the horror genre, right? Well, Duo-Vision wasn't just employed during the movie's most horrific moments; it was used for the movie's entire 95-minute runtime. The technique had been used sparingly in other films—most notably in Brian De Palma's much better film Sisters (1973)—but it had never been implemented to this extent. A little bit of Duo-Vision apparently goes a long way, because it fell out of favor soon after.

John Carpenter May Be Planning a They Live Sequel

Universal Studios Home Video
Universal Studios Home Video

John Carpenter is one of the horror genre's biggest names. The man behind the original Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York, and The Thing, ​Carpenter has had a long enough career to see many of his most popular creations be remade, including this year's new Halloween film, which features some of the original actors returning to their iconic roles to continue a decades-long story.

But in a recent interview with ​Den of Geek, when Carpenter was questioned about whether his cult classic They Live might he ripe for revisiting, Carpenter teased: "Well, I’m not gonna tell you about that, because it might be closer to reality than you think."

​They Live, which came out in 1988, featured the late professional wrestler 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper in his signature role as a man who finds a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the true state of the world and uncover an alien invasion. Like so many of Carpenter's other films, it has continued to amass a cult following in the decades since its release—especially among those viewers who understood and appreciated its underlying political metaphor.

Today's highly divisive political climate makes it a perfect time for a sequel/reboot/reimagining of They Live, and it sounds as if Carpenter might agree.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER