‘Seinfeld’ is good for business (yada yada yada)

June 27, 2015, 5:00 PM UTC
SEINFELD -- "The Mom and Pop Store" Episode 8 -- Pictured: (l-r) Jerry Seinfeld as himself, Jason Alexander as George Costanza, Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine Benes (Photo by Joseph Del Valle/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
Photograph by Joseph Del Valle — NBC via Getty Images

The “Seinfeld” rerun has been a fixture of syndicated television since the show’s 1998 series finale. Created by comedians Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, this sitcom’s steadfast refusal to embrace such sitcom norms as lessons, hugging or heartwarming “very special” episodes set it apart, and to this day there’s never been another show like it.

It was initially slow to catch on, but today its commercial success seems like a given. In 2013, The Independent reported that in 15 years of syndication, it had earned $3.1 billion, putting $400 million in each of its co-creators’ pockets.

Earlier this week, all 180 episodes of “Seinfeld” became available for streaming on Hulu. The streaming service paid $160 million for it, and the money is split between Sony TV, Castle Rock Entertainment and the show’s profit participants. In other words, the metaphorical beds made of money that Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld sleep in every night just got a few inches higher.

“Seinfeld” derived much of its humor from riffs on mundane, everyday products found in real life. Fortune presents a few instances of “Seinfeld” colliding with commerce –and what happened after they got a bit of Seinfeld publicity.

The Sponge

In “The Sponge,” which aired in 1995, Elaine buys a full case of female contraceptive sponges that are about to be taken off the market. Panicked with the need to ration her supply, she subjects her current boyfriend to a battery of questions designed to ascertain whether or not he is “spongeworthy.”

Inspired by this episode, Today Sponge started a “SpongeWorthy Club” for those wishing to buy this particular contraceptive sponge in bulk. The website for this club bears the text, “You are worth it… You are sponge worthy… Now, the only question… is he?”

The Soup Nazi

The episode “The Soup Nazi” concerns a soup stand whose delicious product is dispensed by a rule-obsessed, tyrannical owner nicknamed the “Soup Nazi.” Failure to obey even one of his rules regarding queuing or payment engenders his dreaded and enraged decree, “No soup for you!”

The character was based on a real-life Manhattan soup vendor, Al Yeganeh of Soup Kitchen International. He was famously displeased with his portrayal on the show, but not above using the fame it accorded him.

In 1998, he went on the Home Shopping Network to sell his own frozen soups, and received 1,600 orders in eight minutes. He has since opened a Shaquille O’Neal-endorsed line of soups and restaurant chain in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Its official website sells merchandise that includes t-shirts bearing the slogan, “No Soup For You!”

The Junior Mint

In 1993, “The Junior Mint” aired, in which Jerry and Kramer watch doctors perform a splenectomy from a balcony. Kramer accidentally drops a Junior Mint into the patient’s open abdominal cavity while the doctors are operating on him. Brands & Films, a blog about product placement, was so impressed with this episode that it singled it out for particular praise.

“Their role in the Seinfeld episode was hilarious, but also very well done,” it said of Junior Mints. “It included all three types of product placement: the name of the brand was mentioned several times, the product was visible for a few seconds and one of the main characters (Kramer) has even eaten the candies.”

Tom’s Restaurant

No episode of “Seinfeld” was complete without an exterior shot of the Monk’s Diner. The inside was shot on a soundstage and the name was fictional, but the exterior belonged to Tom’s Restaurant, a real diner on 112th Street and Broadway in Manhattan.

According to the restaurant’s website, most of its business comes from students at nearby Columbia University. However, the owner, Mike Zoulis, told New York Magazine that five to 10 percent of his business comes from tourists who visit specifically because of the show.


Daniel Bukszpan is a New York-based freelance writer.