The Time Of Our Life: Remembering The Night Seinfeld Ended
It's something unpredictable
But in the end it's right
I hope you had the time of your life
During the 1997-98 school year I was a sophomore at the University of South Carolina. And every Thursday night at 9:00 I would gather with my brother Ashley, and our friends Shawn Simeral and Bryan Baxley to watch Seinfeld. It was our favorite show. For all of us. Occasionally others joined us and occasionally we would meet up at 8:00 to watch Friends as well, but there was no doubt the night was dedicated to Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer. They were a huge part of our week and had been for several years.
Halfway through the year, we got the news that this was it for Seinfeld. This would be the last season. I remember Ashley collecting as many magazines as he could that had this news on the cover. It’s weird to think that back then we got news without Facebook or Twitter. But just the same, the TV show that defined our adolescence was going off the air.
So, of course, we, like millions of other Americans, had the big finale party. Since school was out for us on May 14, 1998, we had it at our parents’ house. The place was packed. I recall so many details. I was decked out in my black T-shirt that had Wayne Knight on the front saying “Hello, Jerry” and on the back in big block letters said HELLO NEWMAN. I wore it every Thursday back then. I remember sitting in my favorite chair, which was closest to the TV. I remember sneaking a peek at our church’s youth pastor, who was was among the invited guests, when Elaine and Puddy went at it over Hell in a scene during the clip show.
I remember the clip show (now called “The Chronicle”) being cut off short so that the finale could start early because it could not fit into a one-hour time slot. I remember one thing they didn’t cut was a brief, sentimental video with more serious video and photos, including stills of the main characters and empty shots of Jerry’s apartment and Monk’s. “Good Riddance” by Green Day played behind it, a song subtitled “The Time of Your Life”. I remember wanting to cry, which was completely unexpected because anyone who knows the show knows that it was anti-serious 99.99% of the time. They even mocked crying in one episode, with Jerry not understanding what “this salty discharge” was and in real production, the writers and cast adhered to a “No hugging, No learning” mantra at Larry David’s direction.
Yet in the huddle before the finale, we would later learn that Jerry, Jason and Julia all started crying. Because life cannot always imitate art. Michael, the method actor who hated mistakes during filming (which you can see on the outtakes), was the only hold out on emotion. Yet, the lyrics to the Green Day song overlapping those Seinfeld images struck a chord with me because in sitcom terms, Seinfeld did give us the time of our life. And just like Jerry, Jason and Julia, its ending hit me in the feels.
As far as the finale itself, I’ve written about it elsewhere and this isn’t even about that. It’s about the event. The night. The hype. The fact that copies of the script were shredded at the end of each day to ensure that it didn’t leak. That people gathered even by the millions in some cities, like St. Louis, to watch on huge screens. The photo below is at Times Square in New York. What an incredible image.
Seinfeld felt larger than life and so its finale absolutely was. TVland went completely off the air during it to honor it. I cannot imagine how badly it would break the internet if it happened today.
I remember after the New York Four were convicted and they had their last moment together in the prison, coming full circle by ending the show with the same conversation that it began with, that I could not laugh at the post-episode scene with Jerry doing his stand-up in an orange jumpsuit, complete with one more Larry David calling out from off-camera moment. It was setting in to me that it was over. After the credits rolled, NBC gave an immediate live thank you to Seinfeld with a picture of the Big Four. If not for the fact I’ve seen the finale many times, I’d probably remember the NBC thank you better than the jail comedy scene. Because it was my sentiment exactly.
My brother and I said goodbye to all our friends and I soon went to bed. I never took off my HELLO NEWMAN shirt, a symbolic non-gesture of someone refusing to let go. And as I laid there in the dark and the quiet, I finally did shed a tear. Somewhere between Green Day and NBC’s thank you and the fact that it was finally reality that there would be no new Seinfeld, I felt sad. It was oddly surreal.
In hindsight, I don’t regret feeling that way, but Seinfeld fans cannot truly feel sad these days. In the last 20 years we have gotten the 9-DVD set and its “Notes About Nothing” and other fun extras, continuous repeats of the 180 episodes on TBS, a reunion on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Facebook pages dedicated to doing nothing but quoting the show, memes, gifs, etc. etc. etc. Those of us that have wanted Seinfeld to live on, have gotten that wish. Perhaps only rivaled by The Andy Griffith Show, Seinfeld has thrived after its end. It won’t die. It’s all over the American consciousness daily.
So for that one moment in time, a collision of emotions in reaction to nine seasons of sublime TV comedy occurred. I was there. I’ll never forget it. As far as TV goes, it has always been the time of my life.
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6 thoughts on “The Time Of Our Life: Remembering The Night Seinfeld Ended”
“I cannot imagine how badly it would break the internet if it happened today.” I’m not sure the response would be proportional, given the fragmentation of the entertainment market today with all of the choices for TV viewing, including a plethora of options that aren’t actually even TV. It would still be a huge deal, but I wonder whether the share of people who were devotees would be as large today as it was then. I think back to other huge TV events (e.g., MASH finale, “Who Shot J.R.”, etc.) and while the number of viewers was smaller, the share was enormous, because you more or less had three choices to pick from; even the Super Bowl doesn’t get the share that it used to. Just speculating…
I’m not sure what you are saying. The year Seinfeld went off the air there were 90 million viewers for the Super Bowl. There have been 20 million more than that (give or take) the last few years, a higher % even if you include population growth. Seinfeld did 76 million so I can only guess it could have done similar. Besides, there is no way to quantify what “break the internet” means. It just means there would have been a ton of FB posts and Tweets about it. Of that I have zero doubt. When George Steinbrenner died a few years ago the Chicago Tribune did a full page on his life and a half page on his role on Seinfeld, even though he never once appeared on the show. I’m a part of 4 Facebook pages that all have tens of thousands of fans. This show has done nothing but grow in the last 20 years in a lot of ways.
But I do see your point in general. Entertainment is very fragmented and that does manifest itself in a lot of data.
I think you’ve got the gist of it in your last sentence. I’m just thinking that if a smaller share of people watch a given show, that show will have to compete even more with all of the other options out there for entertainment, which (theoretically) means that a smaller proportion of people will comment/like/share/tweet/etc. about it. That said, your examples of having multiple outlets today to basically follow the progress of a show that no longer airs suggests that it might not make as much difference as I initially thought.
On a related note, I wonder how many people tuned in for the final episode of Suits that hadn’t ever watched it before, just to see Meghan Markle before she steps into “princessdom”. Royal wedding events transcend a lot of market fragmentation.
Good stuff, Gowdy. I graduated from college on May 14th, 1998. Graduation was my second most anticipated event of that day.
Ha ha! Nice. I graduated the same day Episode 2 came out. I think the graduation wins that one.
We had a big get-together at the Lewis’ house to watch it that night, if I am remembering correctly. It was a really big deal.