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Friday, December 26, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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NBC's `Seinfeld' Signing Off After End Of Its Ninth Season

AP

NEW YORK - "Seinfeld," the most defining and popular comedy of the decade, will halt production this spring after its ninth season. NBC early today confirmed the decision made by Jerry Seinfeld, the comedy's star and creator.

The announcement blows a gaping hole in NBC's Thursday night lineup, by far the most popular in television. "Seinfeld" has won 10 Emmys. It is the No. 2-ranked show on the air, just behind the NBC drama "ER."

Seinfeld's decision made for a blue Christmas at the network, even if the announcement wasn't entirely unexpected. Last spring, following a contract dispute between cast members and NBC, the comedian said he would decide around the end of the year whether to continue.

To try to persuade Seinfeld to continue for just one more year, NBC offered him what an executive there called the richest deal ever extended to a television star.

The executive estimated that Robert C. Wright, president of NBC, and Jack Welch, chairman of parent company General Electric, offered the former stand-up comedian about $5 million for each of 22 episodes.

Seinfeld reportedly earns $1 million per episode and his three co-stars $600,000.

An anonymous NBC official said the network would not try to sweeten the pot again.

In a statement, NBC appeared resigned to losing the show.

"To keep a show of this caliber at its peak is a great undertaking, and we respect Jerry's decision that at the end of this season, it's time to move on," NBC said.

"I wanted to end the show on the same kind of peak we've been doing it on for years," Seinfeld said today in The New York Times. "I wanted the end to be from a point of strength. I wanted the end to be graceful."

And so it's an end to the show that made "not that there's anything wrong with that" and even "mulva" favorite phrases for viewers. Nothing was too trivial to inspire a half-hour's ribbing; one episode had the cast searching for their car after a day at the mall.

The "Seinfeld" finale next spring promises to be a television event along the magnitude of final episodes of the long-running TV hits "MASH" and "Cheers."

Seinfeld said he decided late Tuesday to wrap up production with a special show.

The network, which also faces a difficult negotiation to keep "ER," almost lost "Seinfeld" after last season. Seinfeld's supporting cast, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards, demanded a lucrative contract and a deal wasn't struck until the eve of NBC's fall-season announcement.

In recent months, Seinfeld reiterated that a decision on the show's fate was coming.

"We've all seen a million athletes where you say, `I wish they didn't do those last two years,' " Seinfeld said. "For me, this is all about timing. My life is all about timing. As a comedian, my sense of timing is everything."

Information from Reuters is included in this report.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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