Seinfeld co-stars boycott DVD
As published by the New York Times:
Three Stars of 'Seinfeld' Boycott a DVD Deal
By SHARON WAXMAN
Published: December 23, 2003
OS ANGELES, Dec. 22 — Three of the four leading cast members of the hit television comedy "Seinfeld" are declining to participate in the making of a DVD series of the show because they are unhappy with the related financial deals they have had over the years, people close to the actors and the show said on Monday.
These people said that the three actors — Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who played Elaine; Michael Richards, who played Kramer; and Jason Alexander, who played George — made the joint decision not to give on-camera interviews for the DVD or otherwise participate in it.
Executives at Castle Rock Television, which produced the show for NBC, and Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, which will distribute the DVD, "were only willing to give a small recording fee to the three of them and not a piece of the action," said a representative for one of the actors, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "So they all said, `Why should we make other people richer?' "
Spokesmen for the three actors said they could not be reached for comment on Monday.
A spokeswoman for Jerry Seinfeld said he was disappointed that his three co-stars had decided to sit out the making of the DVD, which will feature extensive interviews with other cast members, writers and producers of the show.
"Jerry has enormous respect for Jason, Julia and Michael, and he had a great experience working with them on the show," said the spokeswoman, Elizabeth Clark. "He hopes they will participate in the DVD." Ms. Clark said Mr. Seinfeld hoped to talk to them after the New Year and persuade them to change their minds.
"Seinfeld," which ran from 1990 to 1998, remains one of the most successful comedy shows in television history and still plays in syndication across much of the country. The DVD of the show would seem destined to sell millions of copies.
The show continues to generate millions of dollars in revenue for its co-creators and executive producers, Mr. Seinfeld and Larry David, though the last original episode was broadcast five years ago. Mr. David did not return calls seeking comment.
The three boycotting actors earn residual payments from the show's reruns, a fee determined by the Screen Actors Guild. A representative for one of the actors estimated the fee at $100,000 a year.
Discontent over the sharing of the "Seinfeld" riches has arisen with Mr. Seinfeld's three co-stars before. In the last few years of the show the actors had sought to become part owners of the show, like Mr. Seinfeld.
They famously sought $1 million an episode for the last year of the show, 1998, in part because they said they thought they had been underpaid for many seasons. They ended up with about $600,000 a show, then a whopping sum for television.
A complicating factor is that "Seinfeld" is now owned by a handful of corporate entities. After the original "Seinfeld" deal was negotiated, Castle Rock Television was bought by Turner Broadcasting, which was bought by Time Warner. This means that Time Warner, Columbia TriStar Television, Castle Rock, Mr. Seinfeld and Mr. David will all take profits from the DVD.
Without the participation of three of the main cast members, the DVD will be significantly less interesting, executives close to the project acknowledged.
"It's never been just about the episodes; it's really about the value added," said Fritz Friedman, a senior vice president at Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment. "That's what takes so much time. That's why so much is up in the air — the concept, the taping, the schedules of people involved. Fans complain if we release bare-bones product. On something like `Seinfeld,' people won't be happy if we just put the episodes on there."
Castle Rock is working on the DVD of the first "Seinfeld" season, aiming to release it in December 2004. Plans call for the eventual release of all nine seasons.
Though taped in Hollywood, "Seinfeld," set in Manhattan, was a quintessentially New York show that contributed a succession of signature phrases and oddball story lines to American popular culture. Everything from Kramer's manic body language to "Yada, yada, yada" to "master of your domain" became fodder for water cooler chat.
Others participating in the making of the DVD expressed disappointment that resentment over money had become a legacy of the show.
Peter Mehlman, a former "Seinfeld" writer, said: "There are so few people who get that chance to be on a show that has that kind of impact. They were so brilliant. We had so much fun while we were doing it. It's kind of sad that they have bad feelings about it."