We're Never Again Going To Get A TV Episode As Watched As The 'Seinfeld' Finale
When Seinfeld's final episode aired in 1998, 78 million Americans watched it live. In the 21st century, we can't relate to those numbers at all. We get that many people watching the Super Bowl once a year, sure, but a scripted program? Let's put it this way—the Game of Thrones finale might have seemed like a big deal (it was the most watched program in HBO history) but six times as many viewers watched the last episode of Seinfeld.
Premium cable and streaming can never compete with the old days when everyone watched the same three channels. But even back when network television reigned supreme, those Seinfeld ratings were nuts. The show had no hanging plot threads to lure viewers in. The previous episode of the show was just another self-contained sitcom episode about nothing (and no one noticed when NBC later quietly took it out of circulation, due to controversy over a scene where they burn a Puerto Rican flag).
And unlike previous historic series finales, like M*A*S*H, no one was tuning in to get closure on long-term emotional character arcs. Seinfeld never went in for anything like that. Some fans speculated that the show would end with Jerry and Elaine marrying or the characters tragically dying, and the finale included some nods to this talk, but that was never going to happen.
Enough people were going to watch the finale that during that slot, the TV Land network didn't air any show opposite it. They just stuck up a title card that said, "We're TV Fans so ... we're watching the last episode of Seinfeld."
Frank Sinatra's daughter Nancy was supposed to visit her father that night, but she stayed in and watched Seinfeld instead. Frank Sinatra died that night. But there was a silver lining: So many in Los Angeles were staying in watching Seinfeld that for once, there was no traffic, and the ambulance managed to get his remains to the hospital in record time.
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Top image: NBC