It's difficult to overstate just how important Seinfeld was to the TV landscape of the 1990s. When the show aired its finale — imaginatively called "The Finale" — in 1998 it drew a jaw-dropping audience of 76.3 million viewers. This was before streaming, remember, so that's 76.3 million people all watching at the same time! It's such a shame, then, that most of those people thought the last episode sucked. And it turns out that even the stars of the show weren't sure they got it right — and they could be doing something about it...
It was a success... from a certain point of view
In some ways, of course, "The Finale" is the high point of the entire series. That massive 76-million-strong audience was probably not even dreamed of when the show debuted to fewer than 16 million people back in 1989. The money the studio made on the finale alone must have been eye-watering, too.
According to the Los Angeles Times, advertisers stumped up more than $1.3 million for each 30-second commercial that ran during the hour-long Seinfeld finale. But the awful reviews probably took some of the sheen off this incredible success story.
People really hated that episode
A brief sampling of the reviews of the finale includes Newsday calling it a "major comedic disaster," Entertainment Weekly labeling it "off-key and bloated," and USA Today simply saying it was "dismal." It's fair to say that the fan reaction was equally disappointing.
"I was disappointed in the show," wrote one commenter on CNN’s message board (remember those?). "Jerry Seinfeld made the statement that all of us, after all these years of finding folly in the misadventures of the characters, are just as guilty as them," wrote another let-down viewer. The reaction is still talked about today.
A finale that lives in infamy
It's a similar experience to what fans of The Sopranos felt when that show aired its divisive series finale in 2007. It was debated so much that — five years later — The Sopranos' creator, David Chase, told The New York Times about a funny idea he'd had.
"It's just very difficult to end a series," Chase said. "For example, Seinfeld. They ended it with them all going to jail. Now that’s the ending [The Sopranos] should have had. And they should have had ours, where it blacked out in a diner." But, of course, that's not how the creators of Seinfeld wanted to go out.
The Finale in a nutshell
If you haven't seen the Seinfeld finale in a long time — or ever — we'll tell you everything you need to know in this one paragraph. A brief overview is essential to understanding why people felt so put off by the whole thing. "The Finale" had Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), George (Jason Alexander), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and Kramer (Michael Richards) get arrested for breaking the "Good Samaritan Law."
A trial is held where previous guest stars from the show come out to relive all the times the four main characters were horrible to them. Finally, Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer wind up in jail for a year.