Can a TV Actor Live Off Royalties Forever?

Most of us assume that between "starving actor" and "celebrity," there has to be a sweet spot where actors can find modest work and still make a respectable income. So what happens when a show is canceled? Can an actor who played a small part on a modestly successful show move to the Caribbean and live off their television royalties forever? Maybe, but most television actors don't live like royalty off their royalties. The best they can do is make a decent living. Royalties are referred to as "residuals" in the television world and those are paid when a show plays in reruns or is sold to syndication, released on DVD, or streamed online. Residuals are based on formulas that consider an actor's contract, time spent on the production, the production type, and the market where the show appears. The amount paid out decreases after each rerun — so by the 13th rerun, the amount has decreased to 5% of the original fee the actor was paid for his or her appearance in an episode. That 5% will be paid every time an episode is run…..forever. In general, only "principal actors" receive residuals — but not extras (background people). For example, if each of the stars of the hit 90s sitcom Friends received residuals at the normal rate, they would get around $10,000 for each episode of the show in syndication. With 236 episodes in reruns, that would add up to a handsome $2,360,000 residual check per actor. In reality, the Friends cast negotiated even higher residuals, with one estimate earning them closer to $20 million a year in syndication. Actors who play bit roles, or even leading actors whose shows are less successful, also receive residual income, but the amounts are often small — sometimes laughably so. In fact, mega-rich rapper Drake started off as a teen actor with a starring role on Degrassi: The Next Generation from 2001 to 2007. His residual check ended up to be a paltry $6.58. However, that’s not the lowest residual check ever paid. That title belongs to actor Jeff Cohen, who appeared in one episode of the 1980s sitcom The Facts of Life and received a residual check in the amount of 67¢. He took it to Maeve's, a pub that once traded a free drink for any SAG check of $1 or less. Maybe actors who can't live off their royalties can at least drink off their royalties.