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How TV royalties work

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(WYTV) – What happens when a TV show is canceled? Can an actor who played a small part on a successful show live off the royalties forever?

It depends.

Royalties are called “residuals” in the television world. A residual is a payment to an actor when a show plays in reruns, is sold to syndication, released on DVD or streamed online.

The TV industry has a trade union — the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA).

SAG-AFTRA collects and pays out any residuals that are due to members. It bases the formula on an actor’s contract, the time spent on production and the TV market where the show appears.

The amount paid out goes down after each rerun. By the 13th rerun, the amount has gone down to 5% of the original fee the actor earned for an original episode. It never goes below 5% — and that goes on forever.

But we’re talking about the principal actors, not extras.

If each of the stars of “Friends” received residuals at the normal SAG-AFTRA rates, they would get around $10,000 for each episode of the show in syndication. There are 236 episodes in reruns. That would add up to a residual check of $2.36 million per actor.

But the “Friends” cast actually negotiated higher residuals than that. One estimate says they earned close to $20 million a year in syndication.

William Shatner has said the original Star Trek series earned him and the other actors no residuals. They didn’t start until 1969.

Actor Jeff Cohen appeared in one episode of the 1980s sitcom “The Facts of Life” and said his residual check was 67 cents. He took it to a pub that once traded a drink for any SAG-AFTRA check of $1 or less.

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