Seinfeld talks money

NEW YORK — Jerry Seinfeld is close to signing for the final season of his NBC sitcom, but he won’t do it without his three co-stars. Despite the hoopla over their contract talks, he’s not worried: “I have found that when you have a situation where all parties want something to work out, it usually works,” he said.

In his first interview since deciding to do a ninth season, the performer’s reaction to the co-star contact controversy can be likened to the subject of “Seinfeld” itself: much ado about nothing.

While hardly promising that deals will be sealed with Julia-Louis Dreyfus, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards, Seinfeld did not seem concerned by reports his onscreen cohorts won’t come back for less $1 million an episode.

“The cast I know would love to do another year. Obviously, NBC would love to have us back. I want to do another year. And the negotiations, that’s kind of a separate issue that’s not really part of the show,” Seinfeld said.

The performer clarified several issues about the ongoing talks. Seinfeld said he has all but sealed his own deal with NBC, which eliminates any hopes on the part of his castmates of getting Castle Rock to move the show to another network that would pay more. But asked if his deal is tied to the cast returning, Seinfeld said: “Absolutely. The show’s the four of us. I won’t do it if they don’t come back.”

He also promised that this will be the last time these kind of talks will occur. Although he’s changed his mind be-fore about stopping, Seinfeld did say, “Next season will be the last.”

Sources close to the talks said that the well-reported $1 million per-episode figure, while surely a headline-grabber, was hardly an ultimatum. It was the first number put forth by the stars’ reps, who immediately dismissed a Castle Rock counteroffer, which was less than double their current salary of $150,000 an episode. While $300,000 an epi-sode, or $6.6 million a season, seems like a lot of money, it’s peanuts compared to the millions that another year will generate for Castle Rock and NBC.

Though the “Seinfeld” talks have been contentious, the widespread feeling from Hollywood dealmakers is there’s too much of a financial windfall for all parties not to reach a resolution somewhere between those $300,000 and $1 million figures.

“It’s like normal negotiations; it just happens to be on a very high level because the show’s on a very high level, so it seems shocking,” said Seinfeld, who declined to get into contract specifics.

However, he’s said to have been most recently paid $500,000 per episode and is due for an unspecified increase next season. “But the fact is everything is really in perspective. I’m sure if you were to listen in on Michael Eisner’s deal points, you would also be taken aback by that.

“I was concerned that people were going to get the impression (the cast was) refusing to go back to work. … My cast is absolutely free agent, they have no contract. They don’t have to do anything. So they’re completely free to ask for anything they want, and I have no argument with it.

“Nobody’s violating any trust here. We’ve done eight years of work. We’ve certainly fulfilled every network obliga-tion and expectation anyone can ask for.”

Because his backend stake as co-creator and executive producer has made him a multimillionaire (the show has re-portedly netted him in the neighborhood of $45 million), money played no part in Seinfeld’s decision to return.

“For me personally, and I apologize for how corny this might sound, financially I didn’t need to do another year; creatively I didn’t need to do another year. But I felt I owed the audience something for the tremendous support they’ve given the show over the years. … And the cast felt the same way. I’m not doing it for the money, I guaran-tee you. Not that the money is bad. But this has been my heart and soul, this show.”

Sources expected the contract controversy to clear up shortly, one way or another.

If and when Seinfeld’s fellow actors move on to their own sitcoms, those deals would include backend guarantees worth millions if the shows come near the success of “Seinfeld.” Just as he’s never tried to dominate screen time, Seinfeld said he cares little if, as reported, his castmates want acting salaries comparable to his, even though the show bears his name.

“I don’t care what anybody makes, frankly, except me,” he said. “It’s the same attitude I have about me supposedly being the star of the show, but if you watched it you really wouldn’t know that. All I care about is that the audience is laughing. It’s not about my ego, it’s about a good show.”

LOLITA’ COURTS DISTRIBS: The makers of “Lolita” hope to find out shortly who’ll handle their too-hot-to-handle pic. After several rousing preview screenings, “Lolita” will be screened for the first time for studio heads this week and next. The pic’s financier, France’s Chargeurs, has locked in distribution for most foreign territories, and hopes for a domestic deal shortly.

The pic has been an uphill climb all along, and its unveiling doesn’t come at a propitious time: As if the inherently racy content of the Vladimir Nabokov novel wasn’t enough, the death of Little Miss Colorado JonBenet Ramsey has put the film squarely in the cross-hairs of the media.

While the pic is more faithful to Nabokov than was Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 version, sources said most of the nudity — done with a legal-age body double for teenager Dominique Swain — is gone. Studio heads saw an hour of the pic last year, but this is the first time they’ll get their first full peek. “People really love the film — if they’ve actu-ally seen it,” said a source.

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