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.”

The 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

The Definitive Guide to All the Cats in Cats

James Corden, Laurie Davidson, and Francesca Hayward star in Tom Hooper's Cats (2019).
James Corden, Laurie Davidson, and Francesca Hayward star in Tom Hooper's Cats (2019).
Universal Pictures

Regardless of whether you were impressed, confused, or downright frightened by the trailer for Tom Hooper’s upcoming film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical Cats, it’s safe to say that the star-studded cast and “digital fur technology” generated strong reactions all around. And, if you didn’t grow up listening to the soundtrack or watching performers in the 1998 film version purr and prance in furry, feline bodysuits, your shock is completely understandable.

Cats is light on plot, heavy on characters, and sprinkled with words that T.S. Eliot made up for his 1939 poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the basis for the musical. To familiarize yourself with all the eccentrically named cats—and find out who’s portraying them in the film—here’s a comprehensive list of every "romantical, pedantical, critical, parasitical, allegorical, metaphorical, statistical, and mystical" cat you’ll meet.

Admetus

admetus cats film 1998
Really Useful Films

Played by: Eric Underwood

Admetus is a ginger and white chorus cat with no spoken lines, but plenty of strong dancing sequences—perfect for former Royal Ballet soloist Eric Underwood. Though some musical productions have renamed Admetus as Plato (both names are mentioned in “The Naming of Cats”), the film will feature them as two separate characters.

Alonzo

Played by: Bluey Robinson

Alonzo is another chorus cat, identifiable by the black patches of fur on his face and the black-and-white stripes on his head. Apart from his ensemble appearances, he has intermittent solo lines and also assists Munkustrap during the fight against Macavity. Since singer/songwriter Bluey Robinson will portray him in the film, it’s possible that Alonzo will dance less than he has in stage productions.

Asparagus, the Theatre Cat

Played by: Sir Ian McKellen

Nicknamed “Gus,” this elderly, trembling tabby has an impressive acting history, which he recounts at length during his song (along with a few disparaging comments about how the theater isn’t what it once was, and kittens these days aren’t properly trained). Who better to play one of the Jellicles’ most well-respected thespians than one of the humans' most well-respected thespians, Sir Ian McKellen?

Bombalurina

Played by: Taylor Swift

Though Bombalurina is only mentioned by name once (in “The Naming of Cats”), she’s pretty hard to miss: the slinky, red-coated cat helps introduce Jennyanydots, the Rum Tum Tugger, Grizabella, Bustopher Jones, and Macavity. She most often sings with Demeter, her duet partner for “Macavity the Mystery Cat.”

Bustopher Jones

Played by: James Corden

Known as “the Brummell of cats,” this black-and-white, epicurean dandy frequents gentlemen’s clubs, wears white spats, and weighs a whopping 25 pounds. Jones’s genial manner endears him to just about everyone—not unlike James Corden.

Cassandra

cassandra in 1998's cats film
Really Useful Films

Played by: Mette Towley

With her sleek brown coat and her regal, mysterious manner, Cassandra seems like she might’ve been worshipped by ancient Egyptians in a past life. You might recognize Mette Towley, a member of Pharrell’s dance group, The Baes, from her appearances in 2019’s Hustlers and Rihanna’s “Lemon” music video—and you can be sure that she’ll uphold Cassandra’s legacy as one of the most eye-catching chorus cats.

Coricopat and Tantomile

Played by: Jaih Betote and Zizi Strallen

These striped twin tabby cats always move in unison and boast psychic abilities. Though the roles are sometimes cut from theatrical productions, we’ll get to see them in the film, played by hip hop dancer Jaih Betote and Zizi Strallen, best known for her work as Mary Poppins in the recent West End revival.

Demeter

demeter in 1998's cats film
Really Useful Films

Played by: Daniela Norman

This multicolored, slightly skittish cat usually duets with Bombalurina, and together they perform “Macavity the Mystery Cat” in full. It’s often implied that Demeter has a complicated romantic past with Macavity, who tries to abduct her during his attack. British ballet dancer Daniela Norman will star opposite Taylor Swift’s Bombalurina in the film, and you can also see her in Netflix’s upcoming ballet drama series Tiny Pretty Things.

Grizabella, the Glamour Cat

Played by: Jennifer Hudson

This aging starlet is now decrepit, depressed, and shamefully rejected by the rest of the Jellicles—think Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond with more self-awareness and very raggedy fur. Even if the Cats original cast recording wasn’t the soundtrack for your childhood road trips, you might have heard Grizabella’s song “Memory;” it’s been covered by Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Barry Manilow, Glee’s Chris Colfer, and more. American Idol alum (and general ballad-belting powerhouse) Jennifer Hudson will bring her Academy Award-winning talents to the role of Grizabella in the film.

Growltiger and Griddlebone

Played by: Ray Winstone and Melissa Madden Gray

Growltiger, a rough-riding sea captain cat, and Griddlebone, his fluffy white lover, appear during “Growltiger’s Last Stand,” during which Gus reminisces about having played the part of Growltiger in a stage production long ago. The characters have been left out of some productions, including the 1998 film, but Hooper’s version will feature them, where they'll be played by British actor Ray Winstone and Australian performer Melissa Madden Gray (whose stage name, fittingly, is Meow Meow).

Jellylorum

Played by: Freya Rowley

Named after T.S. Eliot’s own cat, Jellylorum is a maternal calico who cares for Gus and also helps introduce Jennyanydots and Bustopher Jones. Though sometimes portrayed as older and more mature than some of the other cats, Freya Rowley (who performed as Tantomile on the UK tour of Cats) will likely bring a younger energy to the character.

Jennyanydots, the Old Gumbie Cat

Played by: Rebel Wilson

Jennyanydots is a goofy old tabby cat who lazes around all day and spends her nights teaching the basement vermin various household skills, etiquette, and performing arts. Under her tutelage, the mice learn to crochet, the cockroaches become helpful boy scouts, and the beetles form a tap-dancing troupe. Rebel Wilson is a perfect match for such a multifaceted, eccentric, and amusing gumbie cat (whatever gumbie is).

Macavity, the Mystery Cat

Played by: Idris Elba

The show’s main antagonist is a tall, thin criminal cat with sunken eyes and dusty ginger fur. While the Jellicles are plainly terrified of this “monster of depravity,” they also seem eerily impressed by his ability to elude capture and conviction. Historically, Macavity hasn’t done any speaking, singing, or dancing—he only shows up briefly to kidnap Old Deuteronomy during a rousing cat fight—but here’s hoping that Hooper has broadened the role for the film so we get to hear at least a good growl or two from Idris Elba.

Mr. Mistoffelees

Played by: Laurie Davidson

Laurie Davidson, who played Shakespeare in TNT’s Will, will take on the role of Mr. Mistoffelees, an affable tuxedo cat who peppers his magic tricks with plenty of high leaps and pizzazz. He’s generally beloved by the rest of the cats, and he also saves the day by conjuring Old Deuteronomy from wherever Macavity had hidden him.

Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer

Played by: Danny Collins and Naoimh Morgan

These two roguish calicos describe themselves as “knockabout clowns, quick-change comedians, tightrope walkers, and acrobats.” They’re also partners in petty crime, notorious for smashing vases, stealing pearls, and generally wreaking havoc upon their posh family in Victoria Grove. British dancer Danny Collins will join Naoimh Morgan—who actually played Rumpleteazer in the Cats international tour—to bring the spirited rascals to life in the film.

Munkustrap

Played by: Robert Fairchild

Without Munkustrap, viewers would have little hope of understanding what’s actually happening in this vaguely plotted musical. Though there’s no song to introduce him, the striking, silver cat is still arguably the most important character: He describes the function of the Jellicle Ball, narrates the action as it unfolds, and leads the charge against Macavity’s attack. It takes a certified musical theater machine to play such an integral part, and Hooper has surely found that in Robert Fairchild, former New York City Ballet principal dancer and Tony Award nominee for An American in Paris.

Old Deuteronomy

Played by: Dame Judi Dench

In the gender-swapped role of our dreams, Dame Judi Dench will play Old Deuteronomy, the revered (usually male) town elder who chooses one lucky kitty at the annual Jellicle Ball to ascend to cat heaven, the Heaviside Layer, and be born again. It isn’t Dench’s first time in the junkyard: She was preparing to appear as both Jennyanydots and Grizabella in the original 1981 West End production of Cats when she snapped her Achilles tendon and had to pull out.

Plato and Socrates

Played by: Larry and Laurent Bourgeois (Les Twins)

Though Plato is a chorus cat mentioned in “The Naming of Cats” and included in some stage productions, Socrates was created specifically for Hooper’s film to make room for both halves of Les Twins, also known as Larry and Laurent Bourgeois. The French hip hop duo gained mainstream recognition after Beyoncé featured them in her 2018 Coachella set and subsequent Netflix concert film Homecoming.

Rum Tum Tugger

Played by: Jason Derulo

The Rum Tum Tugger is a perpetually fickle feline with a lot of rock-n’-roll flair and a pair of hips that he seems to have stolen from Mick Jagger himself. In addition to his own song, Tugger also sings “Mr. Mistoffelees” and features in a few other numbers. With Jason Derulo taking on the role for the film, there’s a good chance we’ll see a modernized, moonwalking version of this swoon-worthy cat.

Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat

Played by: Steven McRae

Skimbleshanks is a charming Scottish cat who looks like a friendly tiger and ensures that all is in order on the night trains, which includes everything from patrolling for mice to reminding the guard to ask passengers how they like their tea. With his flaming red hair and graceful precision, Royal Ballet principal dancer Steven McRae definitely has a couple things in common with his character.

Syllabub/Sillabub/Jemima

Played by: Jonadette Carpio

This kitten’s name varies from production to production, but she’s usually characterized by her playful, innocent manner and her willingness to accept Grizabella when the other Jellicles try to shun her. Jonadette Carpio, Philippines native and member of the all-female Krump crew Buckness Personified, will bring her street dance background to the role in the film.

Victoria

Played by: Francesca Hayward

Though lithe, light-footed Victoria doesn’t sing any lines of her own in the original musical, her gleaming white coat and balletic dance solos still make her a standout—so it’s only fitting that Royal Ballet principal dancer Francesca Hayward will bring her to life in the film, where the role has been expanded into a main character. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Taylor Swift even collaborated on a new song called “Beautiful Ghosts” that Hayward will sing in the movie.

Miscellaneous Chorus Cats

Because theater companies vary in size and scope, certain chorus cats are sometimes omitted from productions—or members of the ensemble just aren’t assigned specific characters. At this point, Bill Bailey, Carbucketty, Electra, Etcetera, Peter, Pouncival, Quaxo, Rumpus Cat, Tumblebrutus, and Victor are all chorus cat names that haven’t been given to anybody in the film, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see extra cats in the shadows. According to Dance Spirit, Corey John Snide and Kolton Krause, who played Coricopat and Tumblebrutus on Broadway, respectively, have both been cast as ensemble members in Hooper’s film.

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