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Wayne Knight Filmed Fewer Episodes Of Seinfeld Than You Likely Thought

Among the cast of memorable characters on "Seinfeld," Wayne Knight was a standout. There was the show's namesake, Jerry Seinfeld; the boundary-challenged neighbor, Kramer (Michael Richards); the neurotic friend George Costanza (Jason Alexander); and the beloved best pal Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

And then there was Knight's character, Newman, a devious mail carrier with a maniacal laugh, who quickly became Jerry's nemesis. Whether dreaming of dining on a butter-basted Kramer, soaking his feet in Jerry's living room, or scheming to cash in out-of-state bottles for deposit, Newman was a scene-stealer. So fans may be surprised to learn he wasn't in the original cast of the long-running series. In fact, Newman didn't even appear until 1992, three years after the first episode aired. And while his antics were unforgettable, they were also limited by his carefully rationed screen time.

Were producers worried he'd wear out his welcome? Did they fear his massive personality was too much of a good thing? Did the real Jerry hold a real-life grudge? (No, that wasn't it.) Whatever the case, Knight got surprisingly few chances to win over fans and cement his future fame.

Newman: the origin story

Newman appeared on "Seinfeld" in 43 episodes. That may sound like a lot, but consider for a moment that the show took place over 172 episodes, running for 9 seasons between 1989 and 1998. Putting grade school math to good use at last, we can see that Newman showed up on less than a third of the series' total episodes. Newman's existence was first revealed in the 7th episode of Season 2, when he was mentioned by name and viewers heard his voice. But they didn't get a glimpse of the character, and the voice didn't even belong to Knight. It was producer Larry David.

"The following season, we did a show where I guess we needed a friend for Kramer, somebody in the building, and we'd already heard this name 'Newman' before," David said, in an documentary posted on YouTube. With that, it was decided. They'd develop this "Newman" character and see where things went. The producers had a casting session to see who could play the character — on-screen this time — and Knight came in.

"I was excited about that audition," he said in the same documentary. "I was a fan of the show, and I thought, 'Well, here's a shot at getting on something that's actually good.'"

Who is this Knight character, anyway?

Knight was no newbie to acting when he auditioned for the role on "Seinfeld." He began his career when he left college in 1972 to join a Virginia theater company. When he was 23, he debuted on Broadway in the show "Gemini," and he went on to act in movies and on television.

In 1987, Knight got his biggest break yet as Stan, telling cringe-worthy, dated jokes as the resort emcee in the movie "Dirty Dancing." It was a small role in a breakout film that gained status as a pop culture classic. And then came his shot at playing Newman on one of the hottest shows of the decade.

Newman was originally supposed to appear in just one "Seinfeld" episode. The plot revolved around Jerry's interest in a woman whose boyfriend happens to be in a coma. Witnessing Jerry hitting on this woman, Kramer's friend, Newman, vowed to snitch when the boyfriend woke up. But he was convinced to overlook the indiscretion when Jerry gave him a Drake's coffee cake. Knight as Newman went so well, the one-off character got an upgrade. The delightfully sinister postman became a recurring character, continuing a running gag of trying to foil the show's namesake and delivering his iconic catchphrase with false jocularity: "Hello, Jerry."

Newman lives on

When he developed his Newman character, Knight remembered the work of actors he'd watched growing up. In the noir style of old films on TV, he saw players ramping up the drama with their actions and words. "That little jog I did when entering a room as Newman on 'Seinfeld' ... was a tribute to those actors," he told The Wall Street Journal in 2020.

While Newman started out as a relative of the landlord, whose basic function was to spy and snitch, Knight developed him into a more nuanced character with career ambitions, romantic interests, and an impressive way with words. Decades after "Seinfeld" ended, Newman still resonates, to the point that Knight can't be rid of him even if he wanted to. When a Democratic organization reached out in 2020 about an ad defending the U.S. Postal Service, Knight reprised his role, playing Newman one more time. This time, he was in it for more than laughs.

"If we could capture the voice, if we get it funny, and we could get the message out, I felt like it would be disseminated in a way that would reach people," he told Entertainment Weekly. "And that was what was important."