Seinfeld’s syndication deal was notoriously lucrative — estimated to be worth about $3.1 billion — and by most accounts, much of Trump aide Steve Bannon’s net worth comes from his stake in the show. Before Bannon was a beleaguered White House adviser, he was just another smooth-talking “Hollywood wannabe” who negotiated a profit participation in Seinfeld two years before the show went into syndication that reportedly could have earned him about $32 million since 1998, according to Forbes. But a new investigation by The New Yorker’s Connie Bruck calls into question whether Bannon really made that much on the deal. (“I don’t think I ever heard of him until he surfaced with the Trump campaign and I had no idea that he was profiting from the work of industrious Jews!” Larry David tells Bruck.)
Bannon got in on Seinfeld through Westinghouse Electric, which hired him to sell its stake in Castle Rock Entertainment, the production company co-founded by Rob Reiner that produced Seinfeld. When all of Castle Rock was acquired by Ted Turner, Bannon allegedly took an ownership stake in the show:
Bannon claimed that the Westinghouse executives told him, “If this is such a great deal, why don’t you defer some of your cash fee and keep an ownership stake” in that package? He agreed. One of the shows was Seinfeld. “We calculated what it would get us if it made it to syndication,” Bannon said. “We were wrong by a factor of five.” Bloomberg Businessweek said that Bannon continues to benefit from “a stream of Seinfeld royalties.”
There were several corporations involved in the deal, with Bannon’s Bannon & Company taking a small percentage. But The New Yorker wonders whether Bannon continues to make money from the show, or if his deal was paid out in the ’90s:
Warner Bros. started sending out all “Seinfeld” profit-participation statements, including Westinghouse’s, which goes to CBS. The Castle Rock and the Westinghouse records from the early months of syndication are not readily available. It is possible that Bannon’s deal was capped and paid out at that time. But, since then, neither CBS nor Castle Rock nor Warner Bros. has records of payments to Bannon, if those records are as they were described to me.
Furthermore, when Bannon was required to disclose his finances during his divorce proceedings in 1997, all that Seinfeld money was nowhere to be found.
In April, 1997, he submitted an “income and expense declaration,” indicating that his annual salary was roughly five hundred thousand dollars, and that his total assets were around $1.1 million. Any profit participations from “Seinfeld” should have shown up at that time. Either they were not substantial or Bannon failed to disclose them in a sworn statement.
So: Does Steve Bannon pay for his flannel shirts and cargo pants with Seinfeld money? Maybe not! You can now feel a little less guilty about Hulu-bingeing the show. Serenity now.
Update April 25: Businessweek reporter Joshua Green, who has been following the story of Steve Bannon’s Seinfeld money for some time, cast doubt on The New Yorker’s suggestion that the Trump adviser isn’t making money from the show. “I’d always wondered how much $$$ Bannon got, so I did some sleuthing…” Green tweeted, suggesting that it’s possible Bannon’s Seinfeld money is overestimated, but that he still receives royalties from the subsidiary that bought his firm.