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.
“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% — or $20 million — goes to each of the stars every single year.
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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.
‘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.
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