“People don’t turn down money—it’s what separates us from the animals,” Jerry Seinfeld proclaimed as his character on a 1991 episode of Seinfeld. At that point, Seinfeld himself was making a comfortable $40,000 per episode as the lead of his two-year-old sitcom, which had recently cracked the Top 50 in Nielsen ratings.
Three decades later, Jerry Seinfeld has gotten more chances to turn down money than his character could have ever dreamed of. Seinfeld was a huge hit while on air—earning the comedian $267 million in 1998 alone—and then raked in billions after that year’s finale, first through record-breaking syndication deals, and now as a streaming juggernaut. On Oct. 1, the sitcom arrives on Netflix globally as a part of a five-year deal for reportedly north of $500 million, thanks to both its enduring observational humor and an escalating streaming war in which classic TV shows are being used as crucial weaponry. Here’s how the ’90s sitcom has continued to rake in profit—and how it fits into a rapidly shifting television ecosystem.
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