"The Moment" that Jerry Seinfeld felt has finally arrived.
Yada, yada, yada, enough already.
The hype surrounding tonight's "Seinfeld" finale hit Super Bowl proportions months ago, putting the pressure on Jerry and his gang to make this last episode (8:45 p.m., Channel 2, after 45 minutes of series highlights) something to talk about.
Tonight's episode is expected to get a Super Bowl-like rating and become one of the most-watched events in television history.
NBC is predicting an audience of 80 million. And one certain winner is Channel 2, the NBC affiliate that carries original "Seinfeld" episodes. (Channel 29 has the syndication rights.) WGRZ-TV has sold four minutes of commercial time in the final hour at $22,000 per 30 seconds, a figure that is comparable to Super Bowl revenue.
Seinfeld's primary local competition is the Buffalo Sabres, who will be trying to sweep Montreal in Game Four of their Stanley Cup playoff series (7:30 p.m., Empire and CBC). The game probably will be in the second period when "Seinfeld" begins. (The third period will air opposite the season finale of "ER," TV's most popular drama.)
The one-two punch of "Seinfeld" and the Sabres has caused Channel 7 General Manager Bill Ransom to raise the white flag and schedule paid programming tonight instead of ABC's network fare.
"Nobody is going to be watching us or CBS," concedes Ransom, whose personal game plan is: Watch the hockey game because it is live and tape "Seinfeld" for later viewing.
Though the Sabres-Canadiens game will provide local competition for viewers, it shouldn't have any impact on "Seinfeld" ratings nationally, because hockey isn't a popular televised sport.
Beyond who wins the game, the big questions tonight are: Will the "Seinfeld" finale manage to combine the dark side that has made this series so unusual and still give the emotional closure that many viewers want from a historic series?
And will there be a new phrase to join "not that there is anything wrong with that," "master of your domain" and "yada, "yada, yada" in the "Seinfeld" Hall of Fame?
As has been well-documented, Jerry Seinfeld opted to end the series that has made him a billionaire because he felt "The Moment" -- a stand-up expression that means he knew it was time to end things while they were still going good.
The finale was filmed in April before a VIP crowd of network executives and relatives and friends of the cast. Those involved in the episode signed a confidentiality oath.
Few details have leaked out about what is going to happen to Jerry, George (Jason Alexander), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) or Kramer (Michael Richards), even though many news organizations have been as persistent as Kenneth Starr in trying to get them. The latest plot rumor (not revealed here) arrived Wednesday, courtesy of gossip columnists for the Boston Herald.
Larry David (the series co-creator with his pal Seinfeld), who wrote more than 60 episodes of the series before leaving two seasons ago, has written the finale.
In a recent interview with a San Francisco TV critic, Chuck Barney, David said that many classic characters will appear tonight, there will be references to past story lines, and he expects fans to be a little shocked "in a good way" by the ending.
Realizing how difficult it will be to live up to the hype, Seinfeld cracked on NBC's "Dateline" Tuesday night: "I've resigned myself to the fact everyone will hate it." But later he told interviewer Katie Couric: "I know what the show is; I think it is going to be great, and people are going to love it."
We'll have to take the co-creators' word for it. NBC didn't send TV critics advance tapes and is running promos saying it hasn't even seen a final copy of it. NBC's willingness to run something sight unseen proves Seinfeld is the master of TV's domain.
The finale has inspired a variety of "Seinfeld" books, special magazines, special restaurant menus and a level of hype that is more absurd than many "Seinfeld" episodes.
Premier Gourmet in Kenmore is even selling "The Seinfeld Farewell Menu," featuring such "Seinfeld"-friendly items as the "Monk's Booth Special on Marble Rye," "The Soup Nazi" and "Jerry's Just Desserts."
Diane English, whose own show, "Murphy Brown," has its finale after 10 seasons on Monday night, is among those amused by all the "Seinfeld" hype.
"It is ridiculous," she said by phone this week. "None of it is generated by them. . . . None of it, I think, is generated by the public. It is all being generated by the press."
Not that there is anything wrong with that.