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news
The cast of "Seinfeld" join hands for their final casting call
Say 'yada' for the camera

Seinfeld's last stand captured in 'SeinOff'

By CNN Interactive Writer
Jamie Allen

ATLANTA (CNN) -- For those who just can't let go, for those who still recall "Seinfeld" moments over the office water cooler, for those, indeed, who will decorate a pole for Festivus this holiday season, a new book on shelves might be the perfect Christmas gift.

"SeinOff: The Final Days of Seinfeld" is a last official look at the sitcom that stopped time when it stopped altogether this past May with a finale watched by an estimated 76 million people.

The book is a collection of photographs from Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer David Hume Kennerly, who was granted unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to capture in black-and-white pictures the events leading up to and including the taping of the last "Seinfeld."

"World events pale by comparison," says Kennerly, with just a hint of sarcasm.

Actually, Kennerly takes this whole "Seinfeld" circus with a grain of salt. Not that there's anything wrong with the sitcom. Kennerly thinks it was "brilliant comedy" and calls it "American cultural history." But this is a guy who has seen his share of history.

"I covered the Starr hearings, John Glenn's preparation for his launch. I've covered Clinton's problems this year," says Kennerly, who is the first photographer to be named contributing editor to Newsweek magazine.

"'Seinfeld' was unusual. For one thing it was an entertainment story. I approached it as I would any inside story. My mission was to show something about who these people were. I think I accomplished that."

Certainly, "SeinOff" gives a new angle on Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer, and more importantly the actors who played our favorite characters as they cast off for new horizons.

Backstage pass

The fact that Kennerly landed one of the most coveted gigs in showbiz this year should surprise no one familiar with his reputation. Along with his front-line work on many major issues this year, Kennerly has enjoyed a stellar career and is known for his uncanny ability to get behind the scenes of a story.

He was honored in 1972 with a Pulitzer Prize for his work in Vietnam, he was the personal photographer for President Gerald Ford, and in 1997 was one of the few Americans to enter North Korea, capturing on film the desolate conditions that threatened malnutrition and starvation for millions in the country.

So how did he win the confidence of the "Seinfeld" crew? Kennerly just fell back on his experience: He sent Jerry Seinfeld a proposal, along with a book detailing 30 years of his photography. Soon, the phone was ringing, and Kennerly was heading to the "Seinfeld" set.

"(Jerry) and I hit it off," Kennerly says. "He's a very professional man. He was good to his word."

There was only one sticky moment, when "Seinfeld" co-creator Larry David objected to Kennerly photographing the final read-through of the last script.

"He was very nervous about anybody being there who wasn't directly involved," says Kennerly. "I said, 'Look, I'm the only person here who's been given top-secret clearance. If I didn't talk about Brezhnev, I'm not going to talk about 'Seinfeld.'"

David immediately warmed to Kennerly, who found the secrecy surrounding the content of the last episode amusing.

"It was so bizarre," says Kennerly. "I will admit however that my 14-year-old son, Byron, really bugged me about finding out and I said, 'I can't tell you.' But he promised he wouldn't say. And, you know, at some point you have to show some faith in your kids. So I decided to tell him what it was. He didn't say anything about it, and I'm very proud of him."

'It's not fun'

It would be easy to assume that Kennerly, being a cool dad with the backstage pass of the year, was having the time of his life when he worked on this project -- but he says it's quite the opposite.

"It's not fun," he says. "It's kinda like going to the Superbowl to cover it. Everyone says you're lucky, but the pressure is on you to deliver. I had this responsibility (with the last "Seinfeld"). As the only person there, I wanted to do as good a job as I could."

The results of Kennerly's committment to his work are inspiring. Over 200 pictures -- edited down from thousands -- manage to balance the actors with each character they play, with insightful quotes from Seinfeld, Louis-Dreyfus, Alexander, Richards and David accompanying each shot.

One shot shows Seinfeld and Alexander being Jerry and George, with the quote from Jerry: "I had 10,000 things that I like doing on the show itself, and certainly among them was telling George he had a problem, especially one he wasn't aware of."

Another shot shows the blurred Richards, just before he makes one of his trademark entrances.

"No one ever saw it from that point of view," says Kennerly. "Jerry says Michael works with the intensity of a bomb squad. That's absolutely true."

Richards, in fact, offers this on Kramer's entrances: "The way I came through the door was somehow symbolic of how Kramer came to life. He swung into it. He came into it, fingers snapping, alive, swinging. It's what we all must do -- take hold of ourselves, get into life, get involved, live."

'This show lives on'

One shot after the taping of the final show depicts Louis-Dreyfus speaking in front of the cast and crew, crying. "We were all crying buckets. For as unsentimental, cynical and dark as our characters were drawn, personally we were the opposite," Louis-Dreyfus is quoted.

"Seinfeld" fans will consider this book a must-have, with no re-gifting allowed. Kennerly says it's a collector's item, the last official book on the "Seinfeld" gang.

"The book is really important in the sense that this is gonna be it," says Kennerly, who believes each of the actors involved will not give their permission to any other works, as they want to move away from the characters they have created.

"(The sitcom) touches so many people," Kennerly says. "The world would not have suffered had I not done this. This show lives on."



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