Once Seinfeld premiered on NBC the evening of July 5, 1989, television would never be the same – neither would the careers of its creative team. As is often the case when actors star in hit films or TV shows, the cast of Seinfeld found other work surprisingly difficult to come by, as they were too inseparably associated with the characters they portrayed on the show.
On occasion, however, Jason Alexander, Michael Richards, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Larry David, Wayne Knight, and even Jerry himself, were able to work on various side projects in film and television during their Seinfeld tenure. Here are 10 noteworthy examples:
Seinfeld debuted in 1989, but wasn’t a smash hit until its landmark fourth season, which premiered in the summer of 1992. Before then, Jason Alexander wasn’t as easily identifiable as George Costanza, and so he was cast as Philip Stuckey in the hit 1990 dramedy, Pretty Woman.
Because Seinfeld hadn’t taken off just yet, Alexander became famous for his role as the sleazy misogynistic lawyer, which he says caused numerous women to accost him on the street, some going as far as to punch him and spit at him.
Acclaimed director Ivan Reitman cast Robin Williams and Billy Crystal in the lead roles of this goofball buddy comedy about two men searching for the teenage boy they are both told is their son. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is excellent as Crystal’s wife, mostly kept in the dark about the whole affair until she takes matters into her own hands in the film’s third act.
Miraculously, this star-studded caper was a major flop at the box-office, but it remains one of the great underrated comedies to this day.
Co-creator and executive producer Larry David quit Seinfeld after the seventh season so he could direct the filmed version of his screenplay, Sour Grapes. The plot could easily have been a Seinfeld episode: bitterness sets in between two friends after one wins a casino jackpot with the quarter he “borrowed” from the other.
The movie was a major flop with critics and didn’t do much at the box-office either. Nonetheless, Seinfeld die-hards enjoyed it, and still appreciate it to this day.
Trial and Error
Michael Richards was perhaps the biggest victim of typecasting of any of his castmates, because of his uniquely idiosyncratic performance as Cosmo Kramer.
Trial and Error is a goofball comedy in which Richards plays an actor who throws a bachelor party for his friend Charles, a successful lawyer played by Jeff Daniels, on the eve of a career-defining trial. With Charles nursing a vicious hangover the next day, Richard must fill in for him at the trial. Hilarity ensues.
Jerry Seinfeld: I’m Telling You For The Last Time
Just four months after the show’s finale, Jerry Seinfeld released this dynamite standup special filmed at the Broadhurst Theatre in New York City.
The opening sequence is a “funeral scene” featuring other legendary comics like George Carlin and Garry Shandling, in which Jerry “buries” his old material, a metaphor for the end of the Seinfeld era, and the beginning of a new chapter in his career. The special earned rave reviews, and yet another Emmy nomination for Jerry, bringing his lifetime total up to a staggering 14.
Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man
One way to find side projects while typecast in a famous sitcom role is to do voiceover work. Jason Alexander voices the lead character, an alcoholic detective, single dad, and, yes, a duck, named Eric Duckman, in this animated series for USA network.
The show enjoyed a successful four-season run between 1994 and 1997, at the peak of Seinfeld’s popularity, making Alexander a very busy man during those four years, in which he appeared in a combined 161 episodes between the two shows.
A Bug’s Life
Seinfeld went off the air in 1998. Julia Louis-Dreyfus would eventually go on to star in successful sitcoms such as The New Adventures of Old Christine and Veep. Her first starring role after Seinfeld, however, came in animation, as the voice of Princess Atta in the acclaimed 1998 Pixar film A Bug’s Life.
At the time, computer animation was just beginning to replace hand-drawn cartoons as the norm for Disney animated features, and so the cutting-edge technology and strong ensemble cast of A Bug’s Life made it a massive hit, grossing over $350 million worldwide.
3rd Rock From The Sun
Wayne Knight made a name for himself as Newman, a recurring role as Jerry’s evil nemesis and neighbor, and parlayed his newfound cache into landing a permanent spot as Officer Don on 3rd Rock From The Sun, which premiered in January of 1996, during the seventh season of Seinfeld.
Newman appears in only 46 episodes of Seinfeld, but Knight’s Officer Don appeared in over 100 episodes of 3rd Rock, which boasted a successful six-season run from 1996 to 2001.
Love! Valour! Compassion!
Jason Alexander took on the risky role of Buzz Hauser, a flamboyant Broadway costume designer, in this R-rated adaptation of Terrence McNally’s play about eight gay friends spending a summer together at an upstate New York country estate.
Alexander’s role was portrayed by Nathan Lane in the stage version, and so this role was a major departure from his regular role as George Costanza. The film came out in 1997, when Seinfeld was nationwide water-cooler television, and was a massive commercial flop, despite receiving generally favorable reviews.
This televised version of Neil Simon’s play starred not one, but two Seinfeld stars: Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards. This was an NBC production, and so it made sense to feature cast members from their own hit TV shows in the starring roles.
In addition to featuring Dreyfus and Richards, NBC also cast Kelsey Grammer, the lead in their other major hit series, Frasier, in a starring role. The teleplay received mixed reviews but was at least a great exercise in cross-promotion.