A key part of the mythos surrounding embattled White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon is that he makes millions of dollar in royalties from a savvy investment that included profit participation in the sitcom "Seinfeld," but a New Yorker article about Bannon's years in Hollywood is now casting doubt on that claim.
In an essay titled, "How Hollywood Remembers Steve Bannon," journalist Connie Bruck dissects a number of Bannon's key claims about his time in the movie industry and finds that most of them -- including the "Seinfeld" story -- don't really hold up under scrutiny.
"Last November, when Bannon was named Donald Trump’s chief White House strategist, many articles highlighted an extraordinary fact about his Hollywood career: that he had negotiated a profit participation in 'Seinfeld' in 1993, two years before the show went into syndication," said Bruck. "Forbes reported that, if Bannon had a one-per-cent share in the profits, 'he would have made about $32.6 million since 1998,' and went on to say that 'Bannon’s steady "Seinfeld" income' was supporting his career as a conservative propagandist."
The factoid first surfaced in a 2015 Bloomberg Businessweek profile of Bannon. According to Bannon, Westinghouse Electric hired his firm to sell the corporation's small share in an entertainment company called Castle Rock.
Media mogul and CNN founder Ted Turner was interested in buying all of Castle Rock including minority shareholders. Bannon said he advised Westinghouse to take the offer. The company's representatives reportedly told Bannon that if the deal was so great, he should put up some of his own cash for the properties in the Castle Rock portfolio. One of them was "Seinfeld."
"Some of those who were responsible for 'Seinfeld' became agitated by Bannon’s story," wrote Bruck. "Larry David, the show’s head writer and executive producer, told me, '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!'"
However, when Bruck scrutinized the deal -- which Bannon and Co. reportedly came away from with a small portion of Castle Rock's TV package -- and followed it through a series of acquisitions and mergers until she found that after 1995, Warner Bros. acquired "Seinfeld" and began to send out regular profit participation statements.
"The Castle Rock and the Westinghouse records from the early months of syndication are not readily available," wrote Brock. "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."