Real-Life Jerry Nixed Newman As ‘Seinfeld’ Regular
Jerry didn’t have a lot of enemies on Seinfeld. Sure, there were one-off tussles with Soup Nazis, Kenny Banias, and Babu Bhatts, but those were mostly one-episode affairs, minor skirmishes resolved in 22 minutes, give or take a commercial break. There was one nemesis, however, who vexed Jerry over the course of 44 freaking episodes. All it takes is a single word to bring Jerry’s seething hatred to the surface:
“Newman was a nuisance in human form, and a type recognizable to anyone petty enough to have their own low-key arch-nemesis, which is basically all of us,” wrote Rolling Stone in naming Newman #16 on its list of the Greatest TV Villains of All Time.
Wayne Knight’s character was such a powerful Seinfeld presence that no one would be blamed for thinking Newman was a series regular. But to Knight’s chagrin, that wasn’t the case. “I came in did the audition, got the job for the one-off of Newman,” Knight told AV Club. “Larry David had done the voice of Newman prior. They’d created this idea of this guy who was kind of like the building snitch.”
It was supposed to be a one-episode deal, but the notion of Newman as Kramer’s pal was too good to let go. “I think that when Michael (Richards) and I were sitting next to each other in that scene, it was like something from the 1939 World’s Fair,” Knight said. “I mean, there was this big tall obelisk and this rotund kind of spherical shape … They just seemed historically suited. It was kind of like odd kismet.”
So Newman kept coming back. “I kept thinking, ‘They’re gonna make me a regular on this thing!’” remembers Knight. “But, uh, no.”
Starting in Season 3, Newman appeared in more and more episodes with each successive season. So why not just make Newman a regular? "I thought we thought it might disturb Kramer's mystique if you actually saw any friends of his," Jerry said in a DVD behind-the-scenes interview." We wanted him to be, you know, kind of an island unto himself." For Kramer to run, that meant Newman needed to be on the sidelines.
While real-life Jerry might have had legit story reasons for limiting the appearances of his onscreen arch-enemy, the decision likely had a real financial impact on Knight. Series regulars not only make more money than their guest-star counterparts, but they also make more on the residual side as well.
The current actors' strike has highlighted how producers save money by limiting actors to lesser billing. Recently, nearly the entire cast of Bob Hearts Abishola was downgraded from series regulars to “recurring” characters, all in an effort to cut costs. And Disney Channel veterans have been sharing social media stories about how successful shows changed their names after three seasons, starting a “new” show and denying actors increased money for their efforts.
So Jerry’s behind-the-scenes decision likely cost Wayne Knight some serious cash. No wonder the guy had it out for Jerry. “Mark my words, Seinfeld. Your day of reckoning is coming.”