Tuesday, February 16, 2021


Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post.  It was asked originally by Daniel with a whole bunch of you following-up saying you wanted to know too.  So here you go.  

Daniel’s FQ:

Since you mentioned residuals in your post today, could you explain how they work?

Do you get a monthly check? Quarterly check? Annual check?

There’s no simple answer except maybe “Yes.”   Writers receive residuals based on different formulas depending on whether their shows were re-aired on first run networks, local syndication, cable networks, DVD sales, and streaming.   When in syndication, the amount may vary based on the financial arrangements of the deal.   If FRIENDS sells in syndication for a huge number, writers will receive more than if they wrote for RULES OF ENGAGEMENT which sold for much less.  

Residuals are on a sliding scale.  Especially in first run network reruns you make less each time it airs.  

The good news is that since 1976 or 1977, residuals are in perpetuity.  Prior to that you got ten airings and were done.   Same with actors.  Ed Asner no longer gets residuals on THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW.  And residuals didn’t even come into play until 1960.  Vivian Vance & William Frawley made no residuals on I LOVE LUCY.  

Interesting side note:  Audrey Meadows, in negotiating her deal with THE HONEYMOONERS in the '50s proposed taking less money but getting a residual.  She wound up making millions, probably more than Jackie Gleason.   I love that story.

I have no idea what the formula is for DVD sales or streaming but it sure ain’t much.  Or additional platforms.  Example:  One of the episodes of EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND I directed was part of American Airlines in-flight programming packaging for six months.  It was shown on every East to West Coast flight for half a year.  So thousands of airings.  I received a check from American Airlines for $1.19.  That doesn’t buy a packet of their crappy salted peanuts.  

How do we receive residuals?  Studios are expected to send the checks to the WGA who then distribute them to us.  The WGA is tasked with policing this, but who are we kidding?   For all the residuals I’ve received I’m sure there’s a lot of money I’ve been cheated out of.  If you know specifically what you’re entitled to but haven’t received yet you can ask the WGA to investigate.  And that has proven to be successful.  

For years my partner and I never got residuals from the TV airings of VOLUNTEERS.  I called them, pointed out how it had run twice on ABC, hundreds of times on HBO, and been seen in syndication on independent over-the-air stations and cable networks.   A month later I got a five-figure check.  Had I not raised the issue I never would have received that money.  

Today writers can go to a website and monitor their own residuals so it makes it easier to keep track of what you’re entitled to.  

You must have writing credit on an episode to receive residuals.  Showrunners and producers don’t receive any royalties.  And if a showrunner or other staff members rewrite your script they have to send the final draft to arbitration.  The arbiters will then decide the credit.  

I should also point out that agents and managers are not entitled to commission residuals.  

Usually we’ll receive a check for multiple episodes (if we’ve written multiple episodes).  So I may get a check that includes recent residuals for seven CHEERS episodes or nine MASH episodes.  They come sporadically.  

I’ve received checks for as low as one cent.  

People ask if I can live off the residuals.  No.  Certainly not now.  Each MASH episode has aired probably a thousand times so I’m getting just a few bucks an airing now.  But still, that’s money I’m making for something I did 40 years ago.  How amazing is that???  

But residuals have been a big part of a writer’s income for the last sixty years.  Especially in an industry where there’s very little security — you go from assignment to assignment and show to show — residuals can get you through some pretty hard times.  

Now however, with everything changing and streaming clearly becoming the wave of the future I worry that writers won’t enjoy the same protection we did.  There are formulas in place, but I hope in upcoming negotiations we can secure a more equitable share.  And then actually see the money.  

That’s a very brief overview.  Someone could probably write an entire book on the residual structure, but book royalties are terrible.


Gary said...

Re: "I Love Lucy." Lucy and Desi made no residuals off the show, either. When "Lucy" ended, they sold it outright to CBS for five million dollars, which was, at the time, considered a shrewd move on Lucy and Desi's part. Today, CBS says that "Lucy" continues to bring in approximately twenty million dollars a year for the company. Lucy and Desi never made another dime off of it. Years later, Lucille Ball said, in their defense, that Desi never anticipated "Lucy" having any rerun value beyond five, maybe ten, years.

The one person who made money off "Lucy" reruns was series creator-producer-head writer Jess Oppenheimer, who owned 5% of "Lucy" and declined to sell his percentage to CBS.

Jackie Gleason did the same thing with the 39 filmed "Honeymooners" episodes, selling them outright to CBS because, like Desi Arnaz, he failed to anticipate the show holding up in reruns beyond a few years. Gleason was more interested in retaining rights to his variety shows, believing those would be the moneymakers for him in reruns, not those "Honeymooners" films.

Phil Silvers used to complain that he made no money off his classic 1950s sitcom, but got rich off of "Gilligan's Island." Silvers was primary financial backer of "Gilligan."

Actors were paid no residuals on feature films released prior to 1960, a point of great frustration to performers who saw themselves all over the late show and who could have used the money.

Chris G said...

I remember the original Star Trek actors got particularly screwed by the residual practices of the late 1960s: Most of them were typecast and struggled to find acting gigs for years afterward, and they didn't make a cent from the constant stream of reruns that meant anybody who looked at them saw Scotty or Sulu or Uhura or whomever.

Al Aidekman said...

I believe Milt Josefsberg made his own perpetuity residual deal on Jack Benny Show for a percentage of producer's gross. He made far more money from residuals than he did from his initial employment on the show.

Mike McCann said...


I think to be fair, you have to acknowledge that Lucy and Desi weren't really cheated out of anything. They owned the Desilu Studio, and made millions when it was sold to Paramount in 1966.

Curt Alliaume said...

Book royalties (standard):

Hardcover: 10 percent on the first 5,000 copies sold, 12.5 percent on the next 5,000, 15 percent thereafter.

Trade paperback (not the rack-sized books you find at Walgreens): 7.5 percent to the first 25,000 copies sold, 10 percent thereafter.

So let's say I write a book that sells for $25.00 in hardcover and $18.00 in paperback, and it sells 10,000 copies in each format (let's be optimistic). I would make $12,500 on the first 5,000 hardcovers, $15,625 on the next 5,000, and $13,500 on the paperbacks, for a total of $41,625.

But that doesn't count the advance, which goes against the royalties. So if the author gets a $20,000 advance, they don't get any checks until the second 5,000 hardcovers start selling.

Jeff Boice said...

From what I've read, Raymond Burr's approach on residuals was the opposite of Audrey Meadows: he waived his residual rights to Perry Mason in exchange for a higher salary. Which he used to start up his own production company to make Ironside.

Troy McClure said...

Ken, you've gotta hire a forensic accountant to investigate the residuals you and David are owed for Mannequin 2! You've said in the past you're probably owed a ton of dough for all the times it's aired on cable.

Talking of Mannequin 2, I was recently browsing a movie review website by and for homophobic evangelical Christians, as I wanted to laugh. While on there, I looked up their review of Mannequin 2. This will crack you up.

"With rampant depiction of the sodomite lifestyle, film would have been more aptly titled as "Homosexuals on the Move."

Canadian Dude said...

Until recently there was a bar on Ventura called Residuals Tavern - bring in a residuals check for any amount under a dollar and they'd give you a free drink. The limit was one - otherwise they'd go broke. I heard one actor brought in a check for exactly 0.00. Some accountant was being VERY thorough, I guess.

thomas tucker said...

@Troy: what's that website? it sounds hilarious!

Troy McClure said...


Here you go.

BobbyL said...

Up until 1970, most cast members got residuals for only 3 airings of their show in syndication. Think of the money lost by the cast of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND and THE MUNSTERS.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Off topic. This past weekend I watched the "Hawaii Five-0" binge on Decades. Several episodes had white actors playing Asian characters including Recardo Montalban as a Japanese man. I had forgotten how common that was back in the 60's and early 70's. However, I never saw so called "yellow face" on "M*A*S*H."

FRIDAY QUESTION: Was having only Asian actors play Asian characters a conscious decision on the part of the creators/producers? Was it just coincidence? Had they ever considered using a big name, white guest star in asian makeup?

I know you weren't there at the beginning, but I'll bet you know or could find out.


KB said...

My saddest residual was for one cent, and then after taxes it just said "VOID."

DBenson said...

In Doonesbury, Boopsie told her daughter that she had her body scanned at its peak for use in CGI effects, such as enhancing Julia Roberts's cleavage. Consequently she gets a royalty every time Roberts leans forward in "Erin Brockovich".

DVDs open with a card threatening criminal prosecution for Piracy; some have unskippable commercials warning that it's dangerous and even immoral. What's annoying is that the most strident anti-piracy messages appear on classic movies where the original creators no longer receive a penny of ongoing profits -- and may not have since the film was originally released.

It's interesting that some of the most epic battles over royalties don't involve creators or creators' heirs. They center on entities that acquired the rights at some point. For decades Disney fought with successors of somebody who bought merchandising rights for "Winnie to Pooh" from the author, and it was frankly hard to root for either side. After most of the Sherlock Holmes stories aged into public domain, the Doyle estate and others used legal threats to continue to control and monetize any use of the character. Animator Nina Paley contended with corporate claims to 1920s recordings used in her movie "Sita Sings the Blues".

Another interesting angle: When Hollywood assumed its products had no long term value, contracts were often written accordingly. Early on a contract might specify all prints be destroyed after a certain date. Other times there'd be limits on the use of an underlying source or, more frequently, music. Sometimes new contracts were signed when it became apparent that Flash Gordon serials and Popeye cartoons had value beyond the original expiration date. Other times the questions raised by new media -- television and home video especially -- tangled things up in a way that nobody thought it worth the expense of sorting out. In a few cases an owner either set too high a price or simply didn't want to deal (Ira Gershwin, unhappy with the movie version of "Porgy and Bess", used contractual power to bottle it up for decades).

Matt in Westwood, CA said...

A couple of interesting things to add...

Audrey Meadows is a great example as Ken noted. Her brothers were lawyers and she used them instead of an agent. It’s all in the wording, whatever she was entitled to in terms of revenue sharing had the magic words “all forms of revenue,” thereby protecting her from ambiguity and future unknown revenue streams.

Elizabeth Montgomery is another great example. It wasn’t until the end of season 5 when they had to let Dick York go...she was fine ending the show and moving on but ABC still desperately needed the show and made a huge offer. They gave her a % of the show so just as it was hitting syndication she was rewarded with millions for the past seasons as we all know it was huge in syndication. Interesting side note...part of that deal put her name above the title. Look closely and you’ll see it’s seasons 6-8 where it’s “Elizabeth Montgomery in...”

powers said...

A Friday question Ken. If you could have written for any of the notable movie comedy teams, who would you have enjoyed writing for?

Anonymous said...

My knowledge is shallow and little out of date, but studios pay approx. 12-13% of revenues from post-theatrical markets to unions for residuals. Some of it ultimately goes to individuals, some to pension funds. The unions range from the actors, directors, writers and even musicians unions. The biggest chunk, I believe, goes to IATSE, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, i.e. labor like set builders, sound recorders, editors et al. As Ken said, the exact percentage depends on the contracts in force at the time of production and the amount of union vs non-union on the shoot.

What I don't know is how it is allocated among eligible guild members. If Alan Alda and Jamie Farr were the only two SAG members in an episode of MASH, how is the residual money split? Equally? Pro rata on salary earned? Length of time in the union? I have no idea.

Phil Mishmish

MIke said...

Elizabeth Montgomery and her then-husband Bill Asher were smart to do the extras seasons in order to gain a percentage of the show. She never had to work regularly again, and just did a couple of TV movies per year, spending the rest of her time raising her family. Nice.

Desi Arnaz sold the I Love Lucy films back to CBS because Desilu was growing and he needed the capital to finance the purchase of RKO Studios. Desilu then went on to make money renting out the studio space they weren’t using to outside productions like “The Andy Griffith Show” and “My Three Sons” (you’ll see “Filmed By Desilu” in the credits of a lot of non-Desilu shows back in the 50s and 60s). Jess Oppeneheimer was smart to hang on to his percentage of the series.

Donna Reed had kind of a reverse situation to Elizabeth Montgomery. Her show was co-produced by her production company and Screen Gems/Columbia for the first five seasons. Columbia syndicated the show after its original run, but Reed’s contract stated that her company would get the syndication rights to those first five seasons after a period of time (I believe 35 years). Reed did another three seasons after the initial five year contract. Her second deal did not contain a clause stipulating that she’d eventually gain syndication rights to those episodes. I believe she took more money in exchange for less ownership for those last three years. In any event, her estate now syndicates the first five seasons, while Sony (the corporate successor to Screen Gems) owns the rights to the other seasons.

Edward said...

Very interesting post and comments. However, some are not separating the topic of the day, residuals, from profit participation and ownership.

I believe I read somewhere that prior to the 1970's minors were not eligible for residuals.

Brad Garrett was a guest on Howard Stern's radio show 4-5 years ago. He said that his tiny 1/2 of 1% profit participation in "Everybody Loves Raymond" has paid him over $7M.

Finally, I recall that Lisa Kudrow lost a lawsuit by her former Manager regarding his share of her residuals. She lost. I also read that Agents are not entitled to residuals.

JessyS said...

Just a brief aside. Seinfeld did an episode on residuals. The only difference is that Jerry was getting hand cramps for writing his name on checks for residuals from Japan.

Jay Moriarty said...

Interesting situation involving residuals: My partner & I wrote an episode of AITF titled "The Draft Dodger" which was originally aired in 1976 and re-cast (Woody Harrelson as Archie, etc.) and re-staged in front of an audience at Christmastime a little over a year ago.
All participants involved in the recent production were compensated--talent, crew, etc.--except the writers. Eventually the writers were paid residuals, but the residual amounts were based on 1976 minimums. Nothing was paid for a remake--which is a category addressed in the WGA MBA (Minimum Basic Agreement). The Writer's Guild is filing a claim with SONY. To date, SONY PICTURES TELEVISION has refused to negotiate the matter.