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Of all the stories I’ve covered and the accolades I’ve been honored to receive, nothing comes close to what I’m best known for: pretending to be a reporter… named Jane Wells.
On May 14, 1998 — 24 years ago — I appeared on the final episode of “Seinfeld.” It was a huge surprise to my bosses at Fox News. I thought it might cost me my job.
I didn’t care.
How did this happen? Here’s the backstory.
On March 31, 1998, I was celebrating my 37th birthday working on a story in Phoenix for Fox, covering the opening of Bank One Ballpark (now Chase Field). Bank One was the first baseball stadium with a retractable roof over natural grass — plus air conditioning!
The brand new Arizona Diamondbacks were playing the relatively new Colorado Rockies. The Rockies would win, 9-2.
Halfway through my day, in between live shots, my flip phone rings.
“Is this Jane Wells?” a man asks.
“This is [I can’t remember his name] from Castle Rock Entertainment. How would you like to be in the ‘Seinfeld’ finale?”
This has to be a joke, I think. Someone is punking me on my birthday.
“This has to be a joke,” I say out loud. I almost hang up.
“NO NO NO! It’s not a joke.”
The caller explains that they need me to play a reporter in the finale. The plot involves a trial that Larry David wants me to “cover.” (Larry had been brought back to help Jerry Seinfeld write the finale.)
“Are you interested?” he asks.
AM I INTERESTED?
“Seinfeld” was not only the most popular comedy on television, it was one of the most popular shows of all time.
“Uh, yes, I am,” I say, still not quite believing this is real. “What do I need to do?”
He says he’ll let me know and then warns, “You can’t tell anybody — do you understand.”
Of course I immediately tell my cameraman, swearing him to secrecy. “Do you think this is a joke?” I ask him. It makes no sense. It has to be a joke.
Why did Larry David want me in the finale? I later learned he’d been as hooked on the O.J. Simpson trials as the rest of the country. I covered both the criminal and civil cases (and I’ll write more about that next month).
My civil trial coverage included reports for CNBC’s “Rivera Live.” Geraldo’s prime time show had become must-see TV for trial watchers, including Larry David.
Larry had approached Geraldo about adding snippets of a fictitious “Rivera Live” episode to the “Seinfeld” finale. As luck would have it, they needed a field reporter for those scenes. I’m told that Larry asked, “What about that girl?”
Enter yours truly. But then...
Mr. Castle Rock calls me back and tells me to be on the Warner Brothers lot the following Saturday.
The day before I’m due on set, I’m driving home from work during an afternoon downpour (we used to have those in California). My phone rings. Mr. Castle Rock again. “SAG is saying you aren’t a member and you can’t come on the set,” he tells me. I’m a member of AFTRA, but that doesn’t count. (SAG and AFTRA would merge in 2012, 14 years too late to help me.)
“I thought you get one freebie with SAG before you have to join,” I plead.
“You already had that with ‘Volcano,’” he replies.
My innards start churning like a Vitamix 5200, threatening a volcanic eruption right there on the 101 freeway.
A couple of years earlier, I was part of a large cast of Los Angeles news reporters who ad-libbed live shots as a fake disaster unfolded in a very forgettable film called “Volcano,” starring Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche. The plot of the movie revolves around a volcano erupting under the Los Angeles subway system. I always thought it was hysterical, because nobody ever rode the subway back then, so who’d even notice the lava?
Anywhooo… I ended up on the cutting room floor of “Volcano.” I did not appear in the film. (Okay, I’m in the credits.) And that counted as my SAG freebie? Yep.
“SAG says it’ll cost you $1,100 to join, but you have to get them a check today,” Mr. Castle Rock tells me.
That was a lot of money, especially then, but hey, this is Sein-frickin-feld! The production company planned to pay me a couple hundred bucks for my appearance, but Castle Rock Guy tells me they’ll pay me $1,100 to cover my SAG initiation costs if I can pull it off in time.
I do a U-turn, hurtle back toward Los Angeles to SAG headquarters, and write a check (remember those?), right before the office closes for the weekend.
It’s still drizzling Saturday morning as newly-minted SAG member Jane Wells drives onto the Warner Brothers lot. I give my name; minor confusion ensues. The guard doesn’t have my name on his list, and there is no character named “Jane Wells” in the cast. The actual name for the reporter is different.
After some walkie-talkie chatter between security and the crew, I’m cleared to drive in. In short order I’m handed my lines. Finally! Up to this point, I‘ve had no idea what the finale is about. I don’t learn much from my script; it consists of just the two scenes I appear in.
My script is watermarked with a huge number running diagonally across each page. I assume this is the production company’s way of identifying anyone who dares to sneak the script out and fax it to… Hedda Hopper? (This is pre-TMZ. In fact, it’s before social media and cellphone cameras.)
I glean from my scenes that Jerry and his comrades are on trial, and a Who’s Who of classic “Seinfeld” characters file through the courtroom to testify that “the New York Four” are horrible people. I also learn that my character’s name has been changed to — wait for it — Jane Wells!
Someone then escorts me to a tiny trailer where I will spend the day. No TV, no phone (pre-wifi anyway), no window, no People magazine; just me, my script, and my thoughts.
Someone else arrives to take me to wardrobe. I’m already wearing my own regulation “news reporter” outfit, and they give me a trench coat. Then I go to makeup.
As I walk into the makeup trailer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is in a chair. We exchange hellos, and I try to act cool.
Five minutes later, Michael Richards walks in, and he greets me with a casual, “Hi.” He then proceeds to goof off and make Julia laugh really hard. I smile, but inside my exploding head I’m screaming, “Stay professional. Don’t act like an idiotic fangirl!”
I keep reminding myself that I can’t tell anyone about this, and no one would believe me anyhow.
When I’m finally escorted the set, I’m startled to see how many actors are standing around watching. I recognize a lot of them from their memorable performances throughout the nine seasons of ”Seinfeld.” I especially remember seeing Babu there, the Pakistani restaurant owner played by actor Brian George. I start sensing on set that these people are not just actors but also fans of the show who’ve never met each other. They clearly enjoy hanging around to observe the final scenes play out.
Then Larry David approaches me. “Jane, nice to meet you. Let me introduce you to Jerry.” Jerry says hello, and we shake hands. I keep thinking, “No one will believe this, no one will believe this.”
I’m slated to do my second scene first. It takes place after the jury has gone into deliberations. In the script, “Jane” tells “Geraldo” about the various witnesses who’ve testified as to how awful Jerry and the gang are. “It just went on and on and on, into the night,” is my closing line.
As I take my position and try to calm my nerves, and a woman (associate director?) comes up and runs lines with me to make sure I have every single word right. There’s a guy with cue cards, too, but I tell him I’ve memorized the script (what else was I going to do in that empty trailer?). “You don’t need these, do you?” he says, rhetorically. “You’re a news reporter.” Well, I play one on TV.
Here’s the scene, easily accessible on the interweb in 2022, minus the watermark splashed across the page:
Before the camera rolls, Larry comes up to me and says, “Do this just like the O.J. trial.” I take a deep breath and say a prayer. Everyone is staring at me.
Someone reads Geraldo’s lines, and I respond, “reporting” on the trial just like I was covering the O.J. case. I‘m energetic, I use my hands a lot; I’m pretty much a slightly exaggerated version of my normal TV self.
Larry walks back over. “That was… pretty good,” he says in his “pretty pretty pretty good” voice. “But more O.J.,” he tells me.
I realize then that he doesn’t really want me to be “myself,” he wants me to be an overly dramatic version of a television reporter… which is what actors do. So for my second take I pretend to be an actor pretending to be a TV reporter, with all the pompous, worldly, know-it-all superiority that fake reporters exude (and many real ones, too).
I look over.
What I see is, frankly, one of the highlights of my life.
Larry David (inhale) and Jerry Seinfeld… are (inhale, I’m hyperventilating) … laughing. Laughinnnngggggg.
They really liked it. I could’ve died right there.
“Wow, you got a lot of lines!” Babu says, congratulating me without a Pakistani accent, which was a little jarring.
Larry David then pulls me aside to chitchat about the O.J. case. Finally he says, “I know you’re a reporter, but you know you can’t tell anyone about this.”
I assure him that will not be a problem. “Larry, there are many things I’ve been told over the years off the record that I can’t reveal,” I say, like I’m some sort of CIA agent, “even things about O.J.”
His eyes grow wide. “Like what?”
For once in my life, I have timing. I pause, smile, and say, “Well, I’m afraid I can’t tell you.”
Then it’s back to my trailer for hours, broken up by lunch at the commissary, where I see the Soup Nazi (Larry Thomas) and other actors. I speak to no one, for fear that Larry David might see me and think I’m pumping everyone for information. I have one goal at this point: Keep myself off of the cutting room floor. One way to do that is to not act like a reporter snooping around for info on the biggest secret in Hollywood.
Later that evening I do my other scene, which comes first chronologically. It takes place on the eve of the trial. I’ve brought a reporter’s notepad with me, and I ask Jerry if it would be okay if I refer to it, ‘cuz that’s what a normal reporter would do. “Sure!” he replies cheerily.
Here’s the script for that scene:
Before I leave the Warner Brothers lot, I have to give back my script.
My scenes were shot more than a month before the finale would air, and for weeks I had to keep my mouth shut. A very good friend, Cherie Phoenix (who edits Wells $treet, FYI) managed to figure out my secret, but she kept her mouth shut.
I was concerned that Fox would fire me for not asking permission to appear on an NBC program. I was also afraid they would find out before the finale aired and make a stink, jeopardizing my appearance.
One of the producers in the Fox News Los Angeles bureau with whom I worked was friends with the “Seinfeld” writers. He kept telling all of us that he was privy to details about the finale, but he couldn’t discuss them.
I’d look at him, waiting for him to give me a knowing look back.
He never did.
The day the finale was set to air, my assignment for Fox News was – you’re not gonna believe it — covering the “Seinfeld” finale. My heart sank. At this point, the Boston Globe had leaked details of the plot, revealing that the finale was about a trial. I remained terrified that, even at this late hour, Larry David might cut me out of the episode if he believed I said anything public about the script. I know, I know, this is ridiculous. It’s impossible to think he’d demand a re-edit hours before the finale aired, but I was not thinking rationally.
Anyhow, during my Fox coverage, I engaged in a bit of on-air tap-dancing. I reported that some “alleged” details about the plot had been leaked, and then I pivoted to something lame, like, “But who wants to read about it? Who wants to know? Isn’t it better to be surprised???”
Back in 1998, we had these high-tech things called pagers that would notify you if someone wanted you to call them.
I’d made a deal with Steve North, a producer for “Rivera Live” who’d worked with Larry David on Geraldo’s part of the finale. Since Steve was on the east coast, he would see the episode three hours before I did in California, so I asked him to page me “11111” if I was in the finale, and “00000” if I didn’t make the final cut.
To say I was a basket case that afternoon trivializes the DEFCON 1 level of exaggerated stress I felt. It’s laughable thinking back on it. About the time I should’ve been making dinner, I was in a fetal ball on the couch looking like a woman trying to pass a kidney stone. My hungry children tried to engage me. “Not now! Mommy’s stressed!!” I barked. My husband calmed them and fed them while their mother remained possessed by an alien Hollywood life form.
Finally, my pager went off.
I’d made the cut.
After taking a deep breath, I called my boss, Fred Farrar, Fox News Los Angeles bureau chief (great boss, by the way). Fred was at a San Diego Padres game, and I could hear the crowd in the background.
“Fred? I have something to tell you.” Pause. “I’m in the ‘Seinfeld’ finale.”
“What?” Fred asked, as if he wasn’t sure he’d heard me right.
“I’m in the ‘Seinfeld’ finale. I couldn’t tell you, or anyone. I apologize.”
“Ok, cool,” he replied. Click. Back to the Padres game.
Five minutes later my phone rang. It was the Fox News assignment desk in New York. “Jane, were you just on the ‘Seinfeld’ finale?” “Yes.” Gulp. Here it comes. But what came next was not what I expected.
“Be prepared to go live at 5 A.M. eastern to talk about it.” That would be 2 A.M. my time, but so what, I hadn’t been fired!
I finally watched the finale when it aired on the west coast, and then I tried to get a little sleep.
Around midnight, my phone rang again. “Jane, Frank Sinatra just died at Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Get down there ASAP, and you are NOT to discuss ‘Seinfeld’ on the air.”
So I rolled out of bed and drove to West Hollywood, where I would spend the day doing live shots outside Cedars about the life and career of Ol’ Blue Eyes. Not one Fox anchor mentioned “Seinfeld,” and neither did I.
And no, I never was fired. Also, the Fox producer who was friends with the “Seinfeld” writers later confessed to me that no one was more surprised to see me in the finale than he was.
I received $1,100 for appearing in “Seinfeld,” but the truth is, I would’ve paid them. I remain a member of the Screen Actors Guild.
Here’s one of my larger checks, from 2019:
Just last month I received a new kind of residual check, my first since Netflix took over the “Seinfeld” franchise. It was for $64, netting a whopping $40! Festivus for the rest of us! (Note $24 in withholding on a $64 check.)
When you add it all up — including the original $1,100 — I’ve probably made less than $2,500. But you can’t put a price on the experience. I don’t think I’m particularly funny in the finale, but who cares? Jerry and Larry laughed.
You’ll have to watch the finale on Netflix to actually see my scenes, but here are the credits! My name in lights at :35 in!
And… that’s a wrap!
Questions? Oh come on, you have questions. Join the discussion below.
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