For TV’s biggest stars, key roles on successful shows mean huge paychecks — but the payoff doesn’t stop there. When shows are syndicated, redistributed, released on DVD, purchased by a streaming service or otherwise used beyond the airing the actors were originally paid for, those actors get residual checks — sometimes called royalties.
So, do actors get paid for reruns? According to the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, some do and some don’t. For principal performers, royalties can lead to long-term payoffs that trump the original salary. Background actors, on the other hand, won’t be getting any residual checks in the mail. Click through to find out how much some of your favorite TV stars get paid for reruns and more.
“Friends” ran for 10 seasons between 1994 and 2004. The show made stars out of Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc, Courteney Cox, David Schwimmer, Lisa Kudrow and, of course, Jennifer Aniston — one of the richest actresses of all time.
The show’s success still pays dividends for the cast. In 2015, USA Today reported that Warner Bros. earns $1 billion a year from “Friends.” Of that amount, 2 percent — or $20 million — goes to each of the stars every single year.
One of the most beloved and successful sitcoms of all time, “Seinfeld” — the show about nothing — ran for nine seasons ending in 1998. The Independent reported that by 2013, “Seinfeld reruns had earned $3.1 billion.” In 2015, Today reported that Hulu purchased all 180 episodes and cited other publications that estimated the deal to be worth as much as $1 million per episode.
As far as payouts to the cast, Jerry Seinfeld — who actually had one of the highest net worths in 2016 — and co-creator Larry David take the lion’s share of royalties because co-stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Richards and Jason Alexander don’t own a stake in the show, according to Today.
‘Gilligan’s Island’ Royalties
Although it’s one of history’s most familiar sitcoms, “Gilligan’s Island” ran for only three seasons, the first of which was filmed in black and white. Although you could still watch the marooned castaways in reruns until recently, one of the show’s stars claims royalties never paid off.
Dawn Wells, who played the iconic Mary Ann, told Forbes in 2016 that a “misconception is that we must be wealthy, rolling in the dough, because we got residuals. We didn’t really get a dime.” She continued to say that “Sherwood Schwartz, our producer, reportedly made $90 million on the reruns alone!” But that doesn’t mean characters like Thurston Howell, III got to enjoy his riches, even if they were fictional.
‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ Royalties
Ray Romano is one of the richest Emmy Award winners of all time. And in 2013, he took the No. 94 position on the Forbes Celebrity 100 list. Although the publication mentioned Romano’s big-screen successes like his character voice work in the “Ice Age” franchise, Forbes wrote that Romano’s place on the list was largely attributed to “the bulk of his annual earnings coming from syndication of the long-running CBS sitcom.”
Forbes was referring to “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which ran for nine seasons ending in 2005 and continues in reruns on TV Land. In 2015, Forbes reported that Romano earned $15 million from “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
‘I Love Lucy’ Royalties
Sixty years after the show went off the air in 1957, “I Love Lucy” reruns of the groundbreaking sitcom can still be seen on CBS online and the Hallmark Channel — and it continues to pay the salaries of TV executives.
In 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves boasted to a gathering of bankers that “I Love Lucy” continued to pull in $20 million a year. Lucille Ball died in 1989.
‘The Brady Bunch’ Royalties
Generations of children grew up with “The Brady Bunch,” and you can watch reruns on CBS online. The show, which ran from 1969 to 1974, is among the most successful in history — but it didn’t make its stars rich, according to one cast member.
Eve Plumb, who played Jan Brady, told OK! Magazine in 2011 that the “biggest misconception is that we’re all rich from it, but we are not. We have not been paid for reruns of the show for many, many years. We are not making money off of it at all.”
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In 2005, the Chicago Tribune reported that a controversy erupted in Hollywood. “Frasier,” originally a “Cheers” spinoff, achieved smashing success that netted Paramount $1.5 billion. In an effort to avoid paying royalties and agency fees, however, the paper alleged that Paramount attempted a series of shady legal maneuverings to make it appear that the show actually lost money. The trick apparently didn’t work.
In an interview the previous year with John Mahoney, who played Martin Crane, the Chicago Tribune stated in reference to his salary and syndication royalties that “there’s enough in the bank to ensure he never has to work again on something he’d rather not do.” You can catch “Frasier” reruns on the Hallmark Channel. Mahoney passed away in 2018.
‘The Cosby Show’ Royalties
One of the most beloved shows of all time, “The Cosby Show” was poised to follow “I Love Lucy” and “The Brady Bunch” into decades of syndication and lifelong royalties for the cast. That all changed in 2014, when TV Land pulled the show and removed all references to it from its website as an avalanche of sexual assault accusations piled up against the show’s namesake star, Bill Cosby.
Two years later, some cast members were already feeling the financial pain of the checks that were no longer coming in. In 2016, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who played Theo Huxtable, said in an interview with The Real that “since the show was taken off the air, it’s literally taking money out of my pocket.”
‘Home Improvement’ Royalties
“Home Improvement” enjoyed an eight-year run that ended in 1999. In 2016, co-star Richard Karn told Australian publication News.com.au, “Every time the show gets bought around the world … you get a little percentage of that … You don’t want to have to live on that, but it’s a nice kind of annuity.”
‘Two and a Half Men’ Royalties
In 2011, Charlie Sheen — due to his salacious personal problems — was embroiled in a nasty and very public dispute with CBS that would eventually lead to him being fired from “Two and a Half Men.” The show had entered syndication three years earlier and enjoyed consistent status as the highest-rated scripted comedy.
At the time, Fox News speculated that Sheen would go on to earn $100 million more from the show on royalties alone. In 2016, however, The Associated Press reported that Sheen sold his profit participation rights for $27 million.
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‘The Simpsons’ Royalties
Before “The Simpsons” was a $13 billion global franchise, it was an obscure animated segment that appeared on “The Tracey Ullman Show.” Although Ullman lost a 1992 lawsuit in which she sought merchandising fees, the comedienne still cashes in.
During a recent interview with Andy Cohen, Ullman said she still receives residuals from “The Simpsons” nearly 30 years after she created the central characters. While winking, she sarcastically replied, “Yes, I hear from them four times a year.” When asked if her cut was significant, she replied, “Yeah, it’s not bad.”
Rapper 50 Cent can’t reliably make the same claim. In 2017, the Daily Mail reported that the bankrupt musician/actor received a check from a cameo he made on “The Simpsons” for $16.68.
‘Full House’ Royalties
These days, the Tanner family is focused on the next generation thanks to Netflix’s “Fuller House” reboot — but the original cast made out pretty well as far as salaries go for their original time on “Full House.”
The new generation reportedly cleans up a little more than the Olsen twins, however. According to TMZ, whereas the Olsen twins scored just $1,650 per episode when the show debuted in 1987, Sonia Bringas — who plays Kimmy Gibbler’s daughter Ramona — scored $15,000 per episode for her time on “Fuller House.”
‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ Royalties
He lives in a pineapple under the sea and he’s guaranteed to be a household name. Bikini Bottom’s most famous fry cook has turned into one of the most iconic cartoon characters in history — landing over 700 license partners worldwide and raking in nearly $8 billion per year for Nickelodeon and MTV Networks, according to AdAge.
The Conners are back in town and set to return to your living room TV in 2018 — which will only add to the massive payday the stars have been receiving from the steady reruns from their original run. Buena Vista Television’s Bob Jacquemin told Variety that “in 1993, ‘Roseanne’ reigned as the No. 1 new strip in syndication” — an intensity that is only confirmed by the show’s return in this new millennium.
Once upon a time, going where everyone knew your name was synonymous with getting paid well. According to a report by Entertainment Weekly in 1991, Ted Danson was earning nearly $500,000 per episode — over 26 years ago.
‘Will & Grace’ Royalties
“Will & Grace” is the latest in beloved sitcoms from the 90s making a comeback on today’s TV sets.
The ensemble cast — Sean Hayes, Eric McCormack, Debra Messing and Megan Mullaly — are all raking in $250,000 per episode for their latest on-air appearances, which will be huge in addition to their already growing residuals paychecks thanks to a hefty rerun career.
‘The Office’ Royalties
Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica.
You might be a fan of NBC’s long-running sitcom “The Office” if those four words conjure up the image of a mustard yellow shirt. Even though the stars made out with their salaries — and their no doubt growing residuals paychecks — they definitely made out better than if they were paid for the roles they represented on TV.
According to an article by Payscale, Michael Scott would’ve only scored around $78,000 annually for his role as regional manager, and Pam would be earning $27,000 as a receptionist.
‘That 70s Show’ Royalties
It’s all alright — as were the paychecks for the stars of the iconic “That 70s Show.”
According to an article published by Entertainment Weekly in 2003, Topher Grace — aka Eric Forman — was scoring between $250,000 to $300,000 per episode through the end of the series — which no doubt helped line his pockets with reruns.
‘Parks and Recreation’ Royalties
The stars of “Parks and Recreation” didn’t need Jean-Ralphio Saperstein to cook up a scam to make their ends meet. Amy Poehler, who played the iconic Leslie Knope, reportedly earned upward of $200,000 per episode for her time on the show.
‘The Big Bang Theory’ Royalties
With stars Jim Parson, Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco now earning over $1 million an episode for their long-running sitcom — up from $350,000 an episode — their earning potential for syndication has skyrocketed.
‘Modern Family’ Royalties
As the show prepares to wrap on its final season, the cast has been snagging seriously large paychecks for their time on set. All the main stars of “Modern Family” — Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ed O’Neill, Eric Stonestreet and Sofia Vergara — all snag over $500,000 per episode, which will pay off big when their residuals checks start rolling in next year.
‘How I Met Your Mother’ Royalties
The cast of “How I Met Your Mother” made seriously good money for acting, and their on-screen personas also did pretty well for themselves. Although the majority lived above average — residing in Manhattan and holding careers like attorney, architect and TV news personality — the top earner by far was Barney Stinson, the standout lothario and charmer from the group. One Reddit user calculated the exact net worth of Stinson’s character — $1,173,312 annually.
‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ Royalties
This is a story all about how Will Smith’s life got flipped and turned upside down — and you can thank the IRS for that. Although his time in Bel-Air is now iconic, Smith was persuaded to take the role as a way to get out of serious tax trouble. In 1989, Smith’s belongings were seized due to nonpayment of taxes — so the show’s producer Quincy Jones created the sitcom as a way to drag him out of debt.
‘This Is Us’ Royalties
This smash TV series has firmly gripped the heartstrings of many, and the cast is getting compensated to match. Each member’s payday is determined on a sliding scale — Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia are pocketing over $85,000 per episode, whereas Sterling K. Brown is getting $75,000 and Justin Hartley and Chrissy Metz are getting $40,000.
Hopefully, they can enjoy long residuals for many years to come — as long as they remember to unplug their Crock-Pots.
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‘King of Queens’ Royalties
Doug and Carrie Heffernan had pretty comfortable lives for themselves in Queens — especially with Doug’s steady work as an IPS driver.
In 2011, Entertainment Weekly reported that Kevin James — the loveable actor behind Doug — was earning nearly $350,000 per episode as Heffernon. These days, as the principal star of “Kevin Can Wait” — where he’s reunited with Leah Remini yet again — he’s taking in a slightly smaller payday. According to a report from Variety, he’s netting about $200,000 per episode.
After Emmy Rossum publicly feuded with her network in 2016, the co-star of “Shameless” is now earning the same amount as William H. Macy — aka her TV dad, Frank Gallagher.
Both Rossum and Macy are taking in $300,000 per episode — which could prove to be a great long-term income strategy once this show hits syndication with over nine seasons under its belt.
‘Gilmore Girls’ Royalties
“Gilmore Girls” was one of the first shows to hop on the latest trend of resurrecting a beloved classic for the modern age, opting to see how Rory and Lorelai are doing in the world of 2017.
According to a report by The Huffington Post, things got a little more lucrative for the girls in Stars Hollow: The reboot earned the stars over 1,400 percent more than the early days of the show.
The stars of “Gilmore Girls” net $750,000 per episode for the upcoming reboot on popular streaming service Netflix, according to a report from Variety. The article continues to explain that “when the series first debuted in 2000, Graham reportedly earned $50,000 for each episode throughout the first four seasons, according to IMDb. Bledel’s per-episode earnings are not listed, but we can reasonably assume hers, as Graham’s co-star with the same TV name, were similar.”
‘Game of Thrones’ Royalty
Jon Snow might know nothing, but the King of the North is pretty rich in real life, too.
According to Business Insider, Kit Harrington — the actor behind Snow — and his GoT cohorts are raking in up to $500,000 per episode, which will make their paychecks even fatter for every syndicated stream of their tales in Westeros. Even smaller time actors on the set like the actress behind Ellaria Sand are taking in $55,000 an episode.
Mark Harmon has been the star of crime-drama NCIS since 2003 — and his persistence has earned him nearly $500,000 per episode. The show now has over 15 seasons to syndicate from — making Harmon and his costars wealthy from reruns alone.
What is “lots of money,” Alex? Most Americans are familiar with what is arguably one of the most famous game shows in existence — and Alex Trebek is raking in the cash for his tenure as the three-decadelong TV game show host. Trebek has shot nearly 7,000 episodes of the show, earning a lucrative $10 million per year as a contract. With that many possible shows for syndication, there’s no telling just how much cash Trebek is raking in from reruns.
Andrew Lisa contributed to the reporting for this article.