Though Seinfeld has famously earned the reputation of being a “show about nothing,” the idea behind the series—which premiered on July 5, 1989—was anything but. Here are 25 things you might not know about the legendary sitcom on its 30th anniversary.
1. It began as a one-off television special.
The original concept for Seinfeld wasn’t for an ongoing series, but a one-off, 90-minute special titled “Stand Up that was set to run for one night only in Saturday Night Live’s time slot.
2. It was never pitched as “a show about nothing.”
During a 2014 Reddit AMA, Jerry Seinfeld admitted that both he and co-creator Larry David were surprised by how Seinfeld earned its “show about nothing” moniker: “The pitch for the show, the real pitch, when Larry and I went to NBC in 1988, was we want to show how a comedian gets his material,’” Seinfeld explained. “The show about nothing was just a joke in an episode many years later, and Larry and I to this day are surprised that it caught on as a way that people describe the show, because to us it’s the opposite of that.”
3. Kramer was originally Kessler.
In the pilot episode, Kramer is called Kessler, as the real Kramer—Larry David’s former neighbor, Kenny Kramer—was hesitant to let his name be used for the show. Eventually, the “real” Kramer relented. Though he says he was paid just $1000 for the use of his name in the series, Kramer has since profited in other ways, namely with his Kramer’s Reality Tour bus tour (which is now in its 22nd year).
4. Jerry Seinfeld wanted Jake Johannsen to play George.
Though it’s hard to imagine Seinfeld without Jason Alexander as George Costanza, Seinfeld admitted that Alexander was not his first choice for the part. In an interview with Access Hollywood, Seinfeld said that he “begged” fellow comedian Jake Johannsen to take the part, but Johannsen refused.
5. The rumors that Steve Buscemi auditioned to play George are not true.
For years it was rumored that Steve Buscemi was one of many soon-to-be-successful actors who unsuccessfully auditioned for Seinfeld (David Alan Grier was also in the mix, as was David Letterman’s bandleader Paul Shaffer, who said in his autobiography that his resemblance to Larry David—upon whom George is based—was what made him of interest to the show’s creators). But on a 2015 episode of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Buscemi addressed the rumor in his typical good-natured way: “I never did [the audition] and I don’t know how to correct it because I don’t know how the Internet works.”
6. Jason Alexander didn’t think the show had a chance.
Jason Alexander loved the script for Seinfeld, which is what made him question the show’s potential to be successful. “From the moment I saw the script I thought it would be the most brilliant thing I’d ever be part of, and that it would not run for even a day,” Alexander told Deseret News in 1992. “Because the audience for this show is me, and I don’t watch TV … But I don’t think anyone is more surprised by the success of [ Seinfeld ] than we are, because we thought, ‘Oh, we’ll amuse ourselves, and that’ll be it. We’ll have a videotape at the end of it that we could play at parties.’”
7. There was one episode where Alexander didn’t make an appearance, and he wasn’t happy about it.
In all of Seinfeld’s 172 episodes, there’s only one in which Alexander doesn’t appear—the season three episode, “The Pen,” which has Jerry and Elaine visiting Jerry’s parents in Florida (and Jerry getting an astronaut pen from their neighbor). Nervous that being written out of the episode meant that he could be written out of the show, Alexander warned Larry David that “if you do it again, do it permanently.”
8. The real George Costanza sued for $100 million.
Like Kramer, George Costanza was (partially) named after a real person: Jerry’s former friend Michael Costanza, who sued Seinfeld, David, and NBC for $100 million, claiming that the series had violated his privacy. The court sided with the show’s creators, who have always maintained that George is based on co-creator Larry David. In his book, The Real Seinfeld (As Told by the Real Costanza), Costanza noted: “George is bald. I am bald. George is stocky. I am stocky. George and I both went to Queens College with Jerry. George’s high-school teacher nicknamed him ‘Can’t stand ya.’ So did mine. George had a thing about bathrooms and parking spaces. So do I.”
9. Julia Louis-Dreyfus wasn’t aware of the pilot episode until 2004.
Originally, the main female character was supposed to be Claire, a waitress at the coffee shop who would offer Jerry and George advice with their coffee. “[W]hen we shot the pilot, I was the girl in Seinfeld,” Lee Garlington, the actress who played Claire in the pilot, told HuffPo. “They didn’t pick up my contract.” There are differing accounts as to why this happened. Jason Alexander said it was because Garlington rewrote all of her lines; while Seinfeld confirmed that she did indeed give Larry David a rewrite, he swears that that’s not the reason she was replaced, saying they just needed “a character who was a little more involved.”
In a making-of documentary on the season one DVD, Julia Louis-Dreyfus admits that she wasn’t even aware of the pilot until 2004—and has no plans to watch it. Garlington can relate: “I think I watched two episodes in 10 years just because I had friends on it or something,” she said. “It didn’t bother me the first five years. [Laughs] But the second five years drove me nuts. I don’t know why.”
10. Rosie O’Donnell auditioned to play Elaine.
Rosie O’Donnell auditioned for the part of Elaine at the behest of Larry David; the two were old friends, having come up on the standup comedy scene together. Mariska Hargitay, Patricia Heaton, Amy Yasbeck, and Megan Mullally were also among the other actresses considered for the part.
11. Elaine’s dad really did scare the hell out of the cast.
In the series, Elaine’s father is a noted author, Alton Benes. The character was based on Revolutionary Road novelist Richard Yates, the father of Larry David’s own ex, Monica Yates (who really did intimidate David). In the series, Alton was played by legendary tough guy Lawrence Tierney (who played Joe in Reservoir Dogs) in the season two episode “The Jacket” (which was based on David’s real night out with Yates). Though it was intended to be a recurring role, Tierney—like his on-screen counterpart—really did terrify the cast, particularly when Seinfeld discovered that he had stolen a butcher knife from the set, and hid it under his jacket. “Lawrence Tierney scared the living crap out of all of us,” Alexander admitted. And so, Alton Benes made just a single appearance on the show.
12. There was a strict “no hugging, no learning” policy.
Larry David made sure that the cast and crew were aware of his “no hugging, no learning” motto for the show, which meant that they should avoid any sort of sentimentality or situations that would force the characters to change or grow. “A lot of people don’t understand that Seinfeld is a dark show,” David said. “If you examine the premises, terrible things happen to people. They lose jobs; somebody breaks up with a stroke victim; somebody’s told they need a nose job. That’s my sensibility.”
13. The real Soup Nazi says the show ruined his life.
Al Yeganeh, the real soup store owner upon whom The Soup Nazi is based, was not pleased with his depiction in the series, as is evident from the CNN interview above, where he calls Seinfeld “a clown” whose use of “the N word—the Nazi word—is disgraceful.” When the interviewer countered that “you’re famous because of him,” Yeganeh insisted “No. He got fame through me. I made him famous.” Unsurprisingly, Seinfeld was banned from Yeganeh’s restaurant (which didn’t stop the comedian from making a surprise appearance when the soup stall reopened in 2010).
14. The Farrelly brothers wrote an episode.
Two years before Dumb & Dumber made them two of Hollywood’s reigning kings of comedy, Peter and Bobby Farrelly wrote an episode of Seinfeld. The There’s Something About Mary co-creators wrote “The Virgin” in season four, in which Jerry dates Marla the virgin (Frasier’s Jane Leeves) and Elaine attempts to give her an education in sex in the 1990s.
15. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (sort of) got Susan killed off.
Nearly 20 years after Susan Ross, George’s fiancée, was killed off in the seventh season, Jason Alexander revealed what prompted that particularly morbid storyline. In an interview with Howard Stern, Alexander admitted that, “I couldn’t figure out how to play off of [Heidi Swedberg]. Her instincts for doing a scene, where the comedy was, and mine were always misfiring. And she would do something, and I would go, ‘OK, I see what she’s going to do—I’m going to adjust to her.’ And I’d adjust, and then it would change.” Then it was Louis-Dreyfus’s turn to share some scenes with Hedberg. “They go, ‘You know what? It’s f***ing impossible. It’s impossible,'” Alexander continued. “And Julia actually said, ‘Don’t you want to just kill her?’ And Larry went, ‘Ka-bang!'” And that was that.
16. There’s an abandoned episode called “The Bet.”
Though it may have seemed as if no topic was off-limits for Seinfeld’s creators (remember “The Contest”?), an episode that revolved around the ease with which one could buy a handgun was eventually dumped. Titled “The Bet,” it was written for the show’s second season; “We started making it and stopped in the middle and said ‘this doesn’t work,’” Seinfeld said during an AMA. “We did the read-through and then canceled it. A lot of other stuff happened, but trying to make that funny ended up being no fun.” The episode was replaced with “The Phone Message.”
17. A Miller Brewing executive was fired for discussing “The Junior Mint” episode with a female co-worker.
It’s the episode where Jerry can’t remember his girlfriend’s name, but knows that it rhymes with a female body part. After discussing the episode with a female colleague, Jerold Mackenzie, then an executive at Milwaukee’s Miller Brewing, was fired for sexual harassment. Mackenzie, in turn, counter-sued—and was awarded $26.6 million. (A verdict which was overturned on appeal.)
18. The writers thought Elaine’s dance moves might kill Louis-Dreyfus’s career.
Seinfeld writer Spike Feresten told HuffPo that Larry David was not a fan of the eighth season episode “The Little Kicks,” in which Elaine … dances (for lack of a better term). He only got approval on the storyline after David had left, but then became concerned that it might be a big mistake.
“I remember walking through at rehearsal,” Feresten said. “[Writer-producer] Jennifer Crittenden pulled me aside after Julia did the dance for the first time and said, ‘Are you sure about this? Are you sure you’re not ruining Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s career?’ ‘No, I’m not.’ That’s the year she won an Emmy.” Sweet, fancy Moses!
19. The backwards episode was inspired by Harold Pinter.
Season 9’s backwards episode, “The Betrayal,” is based on a Harold Pinter play of the same name, which utilizes a similarly nonlinear narrative device. And also explains why Sue-Ellen Mishkie’s fiancé’s name is Pinter.
20. There was a Jackie Stiles spinoff in the works.
Back in 1999, more than a year after the Seinfeld finale had aired, the media was abuzz with what would be the series’s first spinoff: The Jackie Chiles Show. Phil Morris, who made a handful of appearances on the series as a fast-talking, Johnnie Cochran-like lawyer, was working with Seinfeld and David on the pitch, which would find him as the sole black lawyer in an all-white firm. At some point, plans apparently fell apart.
21. George Steinbrenner actually filmed some scenes for the show.
During George’s tenure with the Yankees organization, legendary team owner George Steinbrenner was a recurring character … except we never saw his face and he was voiced by Larry David. But Steinbrenner proved to be a good sport when he agreed to film some scenes for the show, in which he proposes that he and Elaine attend George’s wedding together. Unfortunately, the cameo never aired.
22. Seinfeld turned down $110 million for season 10.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But when Seinfeld turned down the chance to earn $5 million per episode—a grand total of $110 million—to come back for a tenth season, the network finally got that he wasn’t kidding around.
23. numerology played a part in the show’s conclusion.
Seinfeld has made no secret about his love of the number nine. In an interview with Vanity Fair about the show’s end, he explained that part of the reason for his decision to end at nine seasons was because: “Nine is cool. When I was thinking about quitting the show, I thought, nine. People said, ‘Ten—why not 10?’ But 10 is lame. Nine is my number. And then I found out that nine in numerology means completion.”
24. The series begins and ends with buttons.
It might take binge-watching the series to realize that the very first conversation Jerry and George have in the pilot (which you can see in the clip above) and their last conversation in the finale are about a poorly-placed button, and are almost verbatim.
25. Seinfeld doesn’t like “The Alternate Side.”
When asked about his least favorite episode of the series on Watch What Happens: Live, Seinfeld admitted that it was “The Alternate Side,” in which Jerry’s car is stolen, George blocks traffic during a Woody Allen film shoot, and Kramer gets fired before he ever gets to utter his now-famous line: “These pretzels are making me thirsty!” His favorite show moment? “George pulling out the golf ball at the end of the marine biologist episode,” he told Uproxx. “That’s my favorite moment from the entire series.”