A tentative agreement has been reached among the cast of “Seinfeld” to return for a ninth season, sources said. As salary negotiations get under way, the big question now is: How much is NBC willing to pay for its hit show about nothing?

“Seinfeld” is in the driver’s seat when it comes to negotiations: The show is still network TV’s No. 1 comedy, and the cast’s contracts are expiring. Because of this, insiders expect the ninth season of “Seinfeld” to be vastly more expensive for NBC than the last eight.

Currently, NBC is said to pay a license fee of over $ 2 million per episode for “Seinfeld.” That figure is said to include Jerry Seinfeld’s salary, which comes out of the Peacock web’s pocket. This season, Seinfeld is making $ 500,000

per show, and some industry sources say he may be looking for a big raise for next season.

Getting in on the act

While Seinfeld himself also raked in an estimated $ 40 million from the nearly $3 million per episode that reruns of the show were sold for in syndication, the supporting cast does not have a cut of the back end. With that in mind, the three other principals Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards are looking for big raises to return for another round of the Thursday-night smash.

Cast members Alexander, Louis-Dreyfus and Richards currently earn about $125,000 an episode. Sources said all three will be looking for upwards of $500,000 an episode. That would earn them $ 11 million each for the season. Insiders say their bargaining position is strong because both the network and Castle Rock continue to reap huge dividends from the series.

The show earns the highest ad rates in primetime television at $ 550,000 a 30-second spot. With the network getting nine 30-second spots per show, multiplied by an average of 48 airings a season, sources estimate NBC earns as much as $ 202 million after ad agency commissions. Subtract the license fee NBC pays Castle Rock, and the network still clears upwards of $ 150 million a season or more. It also keeps the 9 p.m. anchor of its Thursday lineup, around which the network has been able to hatch new shows with guaranteed captive audiences.

Going strong

Most feel NBC will find a way to keep its strongest-performing show in the fold. The show was expected to conclude its run after the current season, its first without co-creator and executive producer Larry David, who departed to write and direct a feature for Castle Rock. Steered solo by Seinfeld, the show has continued its rating dominance, and remained a critical favorite.

All parties confirm they want to continue the show, but deny any deals have been concluded.

“NBC would love to continue the show, and discussions are starting up now, which is earlier than they did this time last year,” said George Shapiro, who is the show’s co-executive producer with Howard West, and who also manages Seinfeld. “Jerry was set for this to be the last season, and we had no idea what to expect without Larry. But the critical response has been overwhelming, and critics have raved about the types of episodes, and how the show has broken new ground and gone in new directions.”

High hopes

Shapiro acknowledged that money talks have just begun, but he sounded optimistic: “Morale on the show is really good. There’s a positive feeling about returning, though no deals have been concluded at this point.”

Although industry execs doubt seriously that NBC would find “Seinfeld” too expensive to keep, the show is in a position to shop itself to other networks.

One wild scenario is that Castle Rock could conceivably move the show to CBS or ABC should NBC be unwilling to pay for star salary hikes through higher license fees.

Since “Seinfeld” anchors NBC’s “must-see” Thursday stronghold, either web would salivate over ending that dominance. But most believe such an event happening is a very long shot.

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