Newman lived in apartment 5F, which was directly down the hall from Jerry's apartment, 5A. However, there were many inconsistencies regarding who lived in 5E. In the Season 7 episode "The Engagement", Newman's apartment is 5E. In the Season 9 episode "The Strong Box", long after Newman's character was established, another man, named Phil, is seen entering 5E.
Newman was created as a counterpoint to the Jerry character, though the reason for their animosity is never revealed. Seinfeld once described Newman as Lex Luthor to his Superman. Knight has described him as "pure evil," as did Jerry (in the episode "The Big Salad"):
- Elaine: "Perhaps there's more to Newman than meets the eye."
- Jerry: "No, there's less."
- Elaine: "It's possible."
- Jerry: "No, it isn't. I've looked into his eyes. He's pure evil."
- Elaine: "Maybe he's an enigma. A mystery wrapped in a riddle."
- Jerry: "Yeah. He's a mystery wrapped in a Twinkie."
Newman's role is primarily as a villain/enemy to Jerry and a collaborator in Kramer's elaborate and bizarre schemes. Often described as Jerry's "sworn enemy" ("The Andrea Doria"), Newman is cunning and often schemes against Jerry. He speaks often in a humorously sinister tone (mainly to Jerry). Jerry refers to Newman as "pure evil" on more than one occasion. The two generally greet each other this way, Jerry in a distrustful, baleful voice, Newman in a falsely jovial one:
- Jerry: "Hello, Newman."
- Newman: "Hello, Jerry."
Jerry's mother Helen also greets Newman in the same way.
The origin of the Seinfeld/Newman feud is never revealed. Newman's dislike of Jerry appears to stem from resentment at Jerry's status as a relatively famous comedian. Newman considers Jerry to be undeserving of his fame, referring to Jerry's audience as a half soused nightclub rabble that lap up your inane "observations." Newman's own talents as a poet and wordsmith are not inconsiderable, yet similar recognition to Jerry has so far eluded Newman.
When asked about why the character Jerry hates Newman, Jerry Seinfeld explained it in the Season 3 DVD inside look of the show, "He was the first person on the show, 'my own show', who was coming on to sabotage me in some way. And so why would I not hate him forever for that?"
Newman is a frequent source of annoyance to Jerry, such as in attracting fleas to the apartment ("The Doodle"), and generally making Jerry's life more difficult. Newman often seems quite amused at how effectively he irritates Jerry (which of course only irritates Jerry all the more), although any battle of wits between them rarely leaves Newman the victor.
However, the depth of Jerry and Newman's enmity seems to vary between episodes — or even within the same episode ("The Soul Mate") — and Jerry sometimes seems to consider him merely an annoying neighbor, rather than an outright enemy. Occasionally events lead one of them ("The Blood"), or both ("The Soup Nazi"), to briefly forget their differences. At times they even work together on some scheme, though with some reluctance on Jerry's part (and usually with mutual friend Kramer as a buffer). In "The Old Man", Jerry casually mentions "a couple of friends," referring to Kramer and Newman. Jerry and Newman also attend Super Bowl XXIX together, but only because of a ticket mix-up.
Newman is a good friend of Kramer's, and the pair are forever participating in various get-rich-quick schemes. In "The Bookstore", Newman and Kramer decide to use a rickshaw to transport people from place to place. In "The Old Man", Newman and Kramer try to find valuable records to sell for cash. "The Bottle Deposit" features the most creative scheme between Kramer and Newman to bring many deposit bottles (5 cents in New York) in a mail truck all the way to Michigan (10 cents each). Even Newman's friendship with Kramer, however, can be overcome by Newman's obsession to win in any situation; in "The Label Maker", he and Kramer play a game of Risk and when Kramer leaves the game board in Jerry's apartment for safekeeping, Newman goes so far as to sneak into Jerry's apartment via the fire escape with intent to rearrange the pieces' layout in his favor, although he is detected and flees before he actually changes anything.
As Kramer puts it in the episode "The Reverse Peephole", Newman can climb trees "like a ring-tailed lemur," a skill he claims to have learned in the Pacific Northwest. Despite his girth, Newman is a "fantastic" tennis player and a nimble runner. He is seen running athletically in several episodes. In the finale Newman claims to be one-quarter French. In "The Label Maker", Jerry reluctantly agrees with George that Newman is "merry", which appeared to be a compliment of sorts.
Newman takes his job as a mailman with pride but, paradoxically, is portrayed as a lazy worker with such habits as not working when it is raining or hiding bags of mail in Jerry's basement storage locker rather than delivering them. Despite such clear lack of respect for mail, he nevertheless impulsively protests the idea of any mail being considered "junk". He is sometimes known to use his job for corrupt purposes, such as purposely withholding mail (often utility bills or the like) for blackmail revenge, or using the Union to get himself out of jail.
Newman's angry rants directed against Jerry and, at times, the United States Postal Service in various episodes tend to be bombastic and verbose, displaying an impressive command of language. One of his most well known speeches takes place in "The Finale", after Jerry refuses to take him to Paris:
All right! But hear me and hear me well! The day will come, oh yes, mark my words, Seinfeld! Your day of reckoning is coming, when an evil wind will blow through your little playworld and wipe that smug smile off your face! And I'll be there in all my glory, watching, watching as it all comes crumbling down!
Seinfeld has been quoted as saying that he almost feels sorry for Wayne Knight, as his portrayal of Newman has typecast him to the point that "everywhere he goes, he must be greeted with 'Hello, Newman.'" In fact, during the Seinfeld DVDs special features, Knight recounts an occasion when he was having a particularly bad day, where after a series of unfortunate events, a fan happened to yell "Hello, Newman." This resulted in Knight releasing his long day's built-up anger on the unsuspecting fan.
There are a couple of episodes where Newman serves in roles other than Jerry's enemy and Kramer's friend. He collaborated with George in "The Calzone" in an attempt to find another way to get a calzone to George Steinbrenner. .
He has a few friends from the post office and girlfriends in a couple of episodes. In "The Bottle Deposit", after he is dumped from his mail truck, he seeks refuge in a farmer's house, but is kicked out for having sex with the farmer's daughter, who calls him "Norman". (This was an error on the actress' part, rather than a revelation of Newman's actual first name.) Newman was also seen with a supermodel after his birthday wish comes true in "The Betrayal".
Newman has a crush on Elaine over the course of the series, but ultimately in "The Reverse Peephole", he rejects her advances when she tries to seduce him to get back a fur coat she had thrown away that he found.
United States Postal Service
Newman is an employee of the United States Postal Service, which is portrayed in the series as a powerful and nefarious, yet bureaucratic and inept organization. When they are arrested in "The Engagement", Newman assures Kramer and Elaine that they will not be prosecuted: "Don't worry about a thing. In 20 minutes, that place'll be swarming with mailmen. We'll be back on the street by lunch." Newman's occupation is first revealed in "The Old Man", where George, upon learning it, asks "Aren't [postal workers] the guys that always go crazy and come back with a gun and shoot everybody?" Newman's ominous reply is "Sometimes..." Jerry then responds with, "Why is that?" to which Newman answers with a short outburst of anger, showing his disdain for the unending nature of the mail, and for Publisher's Clearing House.
In "The Junk Mail", Kramer realizes the Postal Service has become obsolete and starts an anti-mail campaign; he's soon abducted by Post Office security men. Newman attempted earlier to dissuade Kramer, pleading, "You don't know the half of what goes on here!" At the end of the episode, for his efforts to save Kramer, Newman is seen being escorted by Postal Service employees with a bucket on his head, pleading for Kramer to "tell the world my story."
Newman claimed that he once worked the same postal route as American serial killer David Berkowitz, otherwise known as the "Son of Sam", who was working for the Postal Service at the time of his 1977 capture; Newman claims "we once double-dated". When asked what Berkowitz's postal route was like, Newman commented the route had "a lot of dogs," but joked that they only told him "to lay off the snacks" (a reference to Berkowitz's claim that talking dogs possessed him to go on a killing spree). Newman retains Berkowitz's mailbag as a valuable collector's item. When the police come to arrest him in "The Engagement," his first words to them are, "What took you so long?", the same words Berkowitz used when arrested. In real life, however, Berkowitz did not have a mail route while employed at the Postal Service. At the time of his capture he worked as a letter-sorter.
Newman makes several bizarre claims about the Postal Service, including:
- ZIP codes are meaningless. ("The Betrayal")
- No mail carrier has successfully delivered more than 50% of their mail (comparing such a feat to a three-minute mile) ("The Andrea Doria").
- Photos in the mail with a "Do Not Bend" stamp can be creased, crumpled and crammed. ("The Andrea Doria").
- "When you control the mail, you control information." ("The Lip Reader").
- Post office workers go on killing sprees because "The mail never stops! It just keeps coming and coming and coming, there's never a let-up! It's relentless! Every day it piles up more and more and more! And you gotta get it out! But the more you get it out the more it keeps coming in! And then the bar code reader breaks, and it's Publisher's Clearing House day...!"
- Nobody really needs mail (said to Kramer when he tries to cancel his mail in "The Junk Mail").
- There really is no junk mail ("The Soul Mate")
- Any packages that arrive at the Post Office with damaged, unreadable, or missing address labels are considered "freebies"; postal workers are thus free to help themselves to the packages' contents. ("The Label Maker")
Series co-creator Larry David conceived the character when writing the script for season two's "The Revenge". Newman was envisioned as Kramer's African-American suicidal friend. He was set to appear in one scene, in which he explained that he jumped from the apartment building, but an awning had broken his fall. Tim Russ, who would go on to star in Star Trek: Voyager, auditioned for the role, as did William Thomas, Jr., known for his appearance on The Cosby Show, who was cast in the part. However, between the first and the second draft, the plot was significantly reduced; the scene in which the character appeared was cut, and Newman's role in the episode was cut down to a brief dialogue with Kramer, with Newman off-screen. David recorded the lines himself, though he was not credited.
While conceiving a plotline for the third season episode "The Suicide", the writing staff decided to create a friend for Kramer. Though they never had the intention of having the Newman character return on the show, they felt it was easy to use him again, as he had already been introduced. Newman was initially envisioned as the son of the landlord who owned Jerry and Kramer's building, making him able to snitch about the building's inhabitants without being punished for it. However, in between drafts the writing staff decided to make Newman an inhabitant of the building and more of a nemesis to Jerry.
Among the actors who auditioned for the part were Armin Shimerman, Dan Schneider and Wayne Knight. Knight remarked that he was very excited to audition, as he was already a fan of the show. David immediately thought Knight was "terrific" for the part, and was also amused by his hefty appearance as opposed to Kramer's slim figure. Though Seinfeld felt introducing a friend of Kramer might ruin the character's mystique, Knight's performance convinced him otherwise. The part was initially a one-time guest-appearance, but Seinfeld and David were impressed with Knight and felt Newman was a character they could further exploit; as Michael Richards later explained "our show was driven by characters and there was no way they were going to let Wayne Knight go." Newman would remain a recurring character until the series' finale in 1998. To establish better continuity, Knight re-recorded Newman's lines in "The Revenge" for the syndicated version of the episode. Both versions of the dialogue were included on the Seinfeld: Volume 1 DVD boxset.
When it was announced in 1998 that the show would end, Knight proclaimed "I'm gonna burn all of Newman's clothes and those funky black shoes I've been wearing all these years. He dresses like Jack Ruby. Nobody's done more with a muted plaid than I have." Prior to the finale, The New York Daily News asked Knight if he would be interested in a spin-off focusing on Newman, to which he replied "I think he could show up on Law & Order as a snitch, but as for a weekly dose of Newman, well, I think if occasionally you're hit in the head with a ball-peen hammer, you might get slightly dazed. But if you were getting hit week after week, you might get pissed off."
Reception and popularity
In a Sacramento Bee interview, Knight explained that he was once pulled over by a police officer who merely stopped him to say "Hello, Newman". Newman was ranked #1 on TV.com's list of the ten most annoying neighbors.
The Revenge (originally voiced by Larry David, dubbed over by Wayne Knight in syndication)
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- Keller, Joel (August 16, 2006). "Seinfeld: The Suicide". TV Squad. Retrieved December 16, 2009.
- Werts, Diane (November 23, 2004). "Master of its Domain Sure to be at The Top of Every Fan's Festivus Gift List, The Seinfeld DVD Sets The Standard for TV Compilations.". South Florida Sun-Sentinel. p. 1E.
- Eler, Lynn (May 11, 1998). "Second Bananas say farewell to the rest of the Seinfeld gang". The Record. p. B8.
- Williams, Scott (March 31, 1998). "Closing Knight Plans For 'Seinfeld' Actor Addresses Newman's Own Role In Last Show". New York Daily News.
- Wisehart, Bob (July 26, 1993). "Busy Days for Actor Knight". Sacramento Bee. p. B6.
- "TV.com's Top 10: The Most Annoying TV Neighbors". TV.com. Retrieved June 26, 2010.