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Yada Yada Dada

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Coming next fall: CSI: Manhattan. George, Elaine and Kramer try to figure out which end is up on a badly decomposed corpse, while Jerry sidesteps a puddle of blood and keeps his sneakers immaculate.

Surely a fan can’t be faulted for dreaming up scenarios to put Jerry Seinfeld back in prime time, especially considering the lame premises of the two short-lived sitcoms starring Seinfeld alums Michael Richards and Jason Alexander. But four years after his groundbreaking NBC sitcom retired with a send-off audience of 70 million, Seinfeld doesn’t see himself as must-see TV. “I’ve kind of graduated from show business,” he recently told The New York Times.

After all, the guy is rich, with an estimated worth of $250 million, plus a $4.5 million, 3,500-sq.-ft. apartment in Manhattan and a hangar in Santa Monica to house his collection of Porsches. Most days he idles away the morning in his office, refracting ideas into jokes through the great whimsical prism of his mind. Then he’s free to take his daughter Sascha, who turns 2 on Nov. 7, out for a play date. Or to pull a baseball cap down over his thinning hair—cut shorter than it used to be—and pop into Zabar’s food emporium for a snack. “He knows the names of all the counter people,” says one of them. “He likes Norwegian salmon.” Says Carolyn Liebling, 50, his sister and business manager: “When you have the kind of success Jerry had on Seinfeld, you can never go back.”

But Seinfeld, now 48, is definitely rolling forward. More than a year into the sold-out tour that has returned him to his stand-up roots, Seinfeld is the star of a small $500,000 movie, Comedian, a behind-the-scenes documentary about how he developed the act by trying out new material at small, noisy clubs. “My perception is that Jerry was a stand-up comedian for years and years,” says his friend, Tonight Show host Jay Leno, “and then for 10 percent of his life, he did a TV show.” Will Seinfeld fans find it ticket-worthy? “Who knows,” says friend and fellow comic Colin Quinn, who appears in the film. “It’s sure not some damned Harrison Ford submarine movie.”

No matter: Seinfeld also has three new American Express TV commercials taxiing on the runway. And—a sign that the man whose sitcom mocked ugly babies has softened—there’s an illustrated kids’ book, Halloween, featuring a little Jerry in trick-or-treat overdrive. (“Someone’s giving out candy? Who’s giving out candy? Everyone we know is just giving out candy? I gotta be a part of this!”) With 325,000 copies sold in less than a month, “it’s a testament to people’s hunger for something by Jerry,” says his friend, book producer Byron Preiss, who came up with the idea based on a Seinfeld stand-up bit.

But that’s work stuff. More exciting to Seinfeld is that he and his wife of three years, Jessica, 31, a former publicist who now runs her own children’s charity, are expecting their second baby in February. Seinfeld’s daughter Sascha “is the focus of his heart,” says longtime friend and manager George Shapiro. He keeps her photo neatly tucked away in his wallet but recently took it out to show Miramax cochairman Harvey Weinstein, whose company is distributing Comedian. “He’s funny,” says Weinstein, “talking about the baby and the baby to come. He’s become a family man.” Seinfeld has even made parenthood part of the act. Performing recently in Pittsburgh, he told the crowd, “When your eyes meet those eyes…I never loved anyone so much at first meeting.” As the audience cooed, he shifted gears: “But! Let’s make no mistake why these babies come here: To replace us. We’ll see who’s wearing the diapers when all this is over.” Still, Comedian shows him with Sascha in the green room of David Letterman’s Late Show: He lulls her to sleep singing an old Cracker Jack jingle. “That one little girl laughing,” he told the Times, “is better than 3,000 people.”

Most nights on the road he hops into his private jet and flies home so he can be there in the morning to greet Sascha when she wakes. “I’ve seen him change a couple diapers,” says his sister. “I’ve seen him pretty much doing everything.” After Sept. 11, he brought Sascha along to pay his respects at the fire station in his Upper West Side neighborhood. “He came by with some brownies his wife made,” says a firefighter at Engine 74. Thanks to his new family, says his manager, “Jerry’s life is so much more substantial.”

To his sister, Seinfeld is still “in recovery” from Seinfeld, which debuted in July 1989. For nearly a decade, “he worked 18, 20 hours a day. It was unbelievable.” Freed from the shackles of prime time, he wanted a happier commitment. “He was anxious to be married,” says Liebling. Anxious in the worst way, it seemed at the time: Seinfeld, who previously dated Shoshanna Lonstein (now 27 and a designer), was first publicly linked with his wife in 1998-three weeks after her wedding to Broadway theater heir Eric Nederlander. (Nederlander quickly filed for divorce.) But it would be a mistake to think Seinfeld, who wed Jessica in 1999, rushed in recklessly, says Quinn: “Jerry doesn’t enter into anything lightly.” The couple, he adds, who sometimes escape to the Long Island mansion Seinfeld bought from Billy Joel for $35 million in 2000, “have that comfortable thing, a quiet joking. There’s just that vibe.”

Of course, some things haven’t changed. “If you ask him about candy, it’s still a very thoughtful subject,” says Preiss of his friend (who, by the way, scarfs Twizzlers). “It’s not like you go behind doors with him and he’s calling his broker. He’s still an adolescent at heart.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Tom Gliatto

Mark Dagostino and Caroline Howard in New York City. Ellen Mazo in Pittsburgh and Pamela Warrick in Los Angeles