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 what the actors were originally paid for, those actors get residual checks called royalties.
So, do all 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 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. As far as payouts to the cast, Jerry Seinfeld 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 International Business Times. David and Seinfeld can each make $400 million per syndication cycle, New York Magazine reported.
‘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. You can still watch the marooned castaways in streaming reruns, but 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, “Sherwood Schwartz, our producer, reportedly made $90 million on the reruns alone.”
Characters like Thurston Howell III didn’t get to enjoy their riches either, even if they were fictional.
‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ Royalties
Ray Romano — one of the richest Emmy Award winners of all time — took the No. 94 position on the Forbes Celebrity 100 list in 2013. 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. Romano can earn up to $18 million a year, mainly from show residuals, Forbes and Vanity Fair reported.
‘I Love Lucy’ Royalties
Over 60 years after the show went off the air in 1957, reruns of the groundbreaking sitcom “I Love Lucy” can still be seen on CBS online and the Hallmark Channel — and it continues to pay the salaries of TV executives.
In 2012, former CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves boasted to a gathering of bankers that “I Love Lucy” continued to pull in $20 million a year, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Lucille Ball, the eponymous star of “I Love Lucy,” died in 1989.
‘The Brady Bunch’ Royalties
Generations of children grew up with “The Brady Bunch,” and you can continue to watch reruns on CBS online, Hulu and the Hallmark Channel. The show, which ran from 1969 to 1974, is among the most successful in history — but it didn’t make the 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.”
In a 2004 interview with John Mahoney, who played Martin Crane in “Frasier,” the Chicago Tribune wrote 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” — which was one of the most expensive TV shows to produce — on the Hallmark Channel, Cozi TV and CBS Online.
Mahoney passed away in 2018 at age 77.
‘Home Improvement’ Royalties
“Home Improvement” enjoyed an eight-year run that ended in 1999. Richard Karn, one of the show’s stars, told Australian publication News.com.au in 2016, “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 was embroiled in a public dispute with CBS about his salacious personal problems 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.
‘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 comedian still cashes in.
During an interview with Andy Cohen, Ullman said she receives residuals from “The Simpsons” nearly 30 years after she created the central characters. While winking, she sarcastically said, “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 make the same claim. In 2017, TMZ reported that the musician and actor received a check from a cameo he made on “The Simpsons” for $16.68.
‘Full House’ Royalties
The “Full House” cast never saw much in terms of residuals for reruns of the original show, according to Bob Saget.
“There’s no ‘Full House’ money. I didn’t own the show. You get nothing. Residual checks on shows are nothing,” he told PopEater in 2010. “If you’re doing a show and you’re not an executive producer and own it, then you get residuals which can amount to checks from $2 to $2,000.”
These days, the Tanner family is focused on the next generation thanks to Netflix’s “Fuller House” reboot. And, the new generation reportedly cleans up a little more than the Olsen twins did — though, despite their low original pay, the twins have gone on to become millionaires many times over.
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,” according to TMZ.
‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ Royalties
He lives in a pineapple under the sea, but he’s guaranteed to be a household name on land. Bikini Bottom’s 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 returned to living rooms in 2018, but the show was canceled by ABC two months after it premiered when its star, Roseanne Barr, posted a racist tweet. And that wasn’t the only fallout.
The show, which had been heavily syndicated since it went off the air in 1997, had its reruns pulled from Paramount Network, TV Land, CMT, Laff and Hulu, The Wrap reported. Before its reruns were pulled, “Roseanne” commanded a syndication fee of $1 million per episode, Variety reported, but it’s unclear what percentage of that — if any — actually went to the cast.
Fortunately for fans of the show, the beloved TV family will be back — sans Barr — in a spinoff show titled “The Conners” in October 2018.
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 27 years ago.
‘Will & Grace’ Royalties
“Will & Grace” is the latest in beloved sitcoms from the ’90s making a comeback in today’s media landscape.
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 growing royalty 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.
The stars of the show are much better off with their salaries and residuals 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
Topher Grace, aka Eric Forman, was scoring between $250,000 to $300,000 per episode through the end of the series, according to a 2003 article by Entertainment Weekly — which no doubt helped line his pockets thanks to reruns. Grace told IndieWire in 2018 that he’s able to take on smaller roles that don’t pay as well thanks to his “That ’70s Show” earnings.
“I was really lucky to have been on a sitcom for a lot of years,” he said. “I realized … that I didn’t really need a lot more money.”
‘Parks and Recreation’ Royalties
The stars of “Parks and Recreation” didn’t need Jean-Ralphio Saperstein to cook up a scam to make 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 $900,000 an episode — after taking a $100,000 pay cut to boost their co-stars’ salaries, according to Variety — their earning potential for syndication has skyrocketed.
The show ended in 2019 at the conclusion of its 12th season.
‘Modern Family’ Royalties
As the show prepares to wrap up 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 — score about $500,000 per episode, which will pay off in a big way when their residuals start rolling in after the show concludes.
‘How I Met Your Mother’ Royalties
Forbes estimated in 2014 that “How I Met Your Mother” star Josh Radnor earned $10 million between pay for the final season and syndication revenue. The cast of “How I Met Your Mother” generally made 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 lothario and charmer from the group. One Reddit user calculated Stinson’s exact salary: $1,173,312 annually.
However, the real-life Stinson, aka Neil Patrick Harris, is worth even more.
‘This Is Us’ Royalties
This smash TV series has tugged at the heartstrings of many, and the cast is getting compensation 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 receiving $40,000.
Hopefully, they can enjoy residuals for many years to come — as long as they remember to unplug their Crock-Pots.
‘King of Queens’ Royalties
Doug and Carrie Heffernan led pretty comfortable lives in Queens — especially with Doug’s steady work as an IPS driver — but their actors’ wallets are even more cushioned.
Kevin James, the lovable actor behind Doug, was earning over $400,000 per episode as Heffernan, reported Entertainment Weekly in 2011. As the principal star of “Kevin Can Wait” — where he reunited with Leah Remini yet again — James took a smaller payday. He made about $200,000 per episode, Variety reported, and the show was canceled by CBS in May 2018 after two seasons.
However, James is likely still able to live it up off “King of Queens” residuals from reruns on TBS and TV Land.
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 $350,000 per episode, which could prove to be a lucrative income strategy in the long term once this show hits syndication with more than nine seasons under its belt.
‘Gilmore Girls’ Royalties
Allowing viewers to catch up with Rory and Lorelai in 2016, “Gilmore Girls” was one of the first shows to hop on the latest trend of resurrecting beloved classics for the modern age.
The stars of “Gilmore Girls” made $750,000 per episode for the reboot on Netflix, according to a report from Variety, which made them the highest-paid actors on any television drama for that year.
‘Game of Thrones’ Royalties
The King of the North is pretty rich in real life, too. Kit Harrington — the actor behind Jon Snow — and his “Game of Thrones” cohorts raked in up to $500,000 per episode, according to Variety, which will make their paychecks even fatter for every syndicated stream of their tales in Westeros.
Mark Harmon has been the star of crime drama “NCIS” since 2003, and his persistence has earned him $525,000 per episode. The show now has 16 seasons to syndicate from — potentially making Harmon and his co-stars wealthy from reruns alone.
What is “lots of money,” Alex? Most Americans are familiar with “Jeopardy,” arguably one of the most famous game shows in existence — and Alex Trebek is raking in the cash for his tenure as the show’s host of three decades. Trebek has shot over 7,000 episodes of the show, earning a lucrative $10 million per year.
With that many possible episodes up for syndication, there’s no telling just how much cash Trebek is raking in from reruns.
'Law & Order' Royalties
The original “Law & Order” premiered in 1990 and has spurred two successful spinoff shows: “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” The show is currently syndicated by Ion Television, USA Online and We TV — however, the original cast isn’t rolling in dough from syndication revenues.
S. Epatha Merkerson, who played Lt. Anita Van Vuren on the show from 1991 to 2010, told Huffington Post in 2015 that sometimes she received royalty checks that were worth less than the postage used to send them.
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About the Author
Rachel Holly Farrow is a Digital Content Editor for GOBankingRates.com. She has worked in a multitude of different mediums — traditional print, television, and now digital — before landing with the team at GBR. She also served as a Weekend News Producer and Digital Content Producer for an ABC-affiliate news station WNEP-TV 16 in Scranton, PA.