Being a female TV star is a pretty sweet gig… at least SOME of the time. For many stars, the money they rake in is beyond their wildest dreams. Beyond all the money you make and the perks of being famous, there’s the serious bank you’ll receive from royalties.
Hit shows that end up in syndication can be a major windfall for the stars. Sometimes even more than they make in their original acting work. Other stars, particularly in the early days of Hollywood, their contracts destroy them. They didn’t see much if any money from their years of reruns. In this video, we’re focusing on some of the top female TV stars over the years, and taking a look at the residual deals they have. Some of these numbers are great, while others are pretty sad. So stick around, as Facts Verse presents: Today She Lives Off Reruns, But the Number is Depressing!
Female TV Star #1 Betty White
Betty White was one of the all-time great talents in Hollywood. She appears on various TV shows for more than 80 years. Considering one of the top comedic talents in the history of the medium. She makes a lot, but in this video, we’ll focus on her earnings from the classic sitcom, The Golden Girls. The show first aired on May 9, 1992, and then ran for 7 glorious seasons.
It revolved around three widows and a divorcee rooming together in Miami, trying to navigate the worlds of dating and aging gracefully. It was a beloved show, and won a slew of awards over the course of its 180 episodes. Betty White played the inimitable Rose Nylund, where she was able to utilize her impeccable comedic timing and chops to play the ‘dumb’ character to a tee. And while The Golden Girls wasn’t the first big hit for Betty, it was definitely her famous show. And it was quite a lucrative one. Once the show was over, White continued receiving $3 million bucks a year in rerun residuals. And, in our opinion, she earned every penny!
Female TV Star #2 Lucille Ball
Lucille Ball is another of the incandescent stars who left an impressive mark on the history of Television. Like Betty White, she was notable not only for her legendary performances in front of the camera, but also for her many contributions to the industry behind it as well. Together with her costar and husband, Desi Arnaz, she founded and ran Desilu Productions. In doing so, she became the first ever woman to run a major TV studio. Desilu put out many popular shows of the time, including Mission: Impossible, and Star Trek. But of course, most people remember her best for her on screen performances, where she shined as an incredible comedic actress for decades.
She racked up 13 nominations for Emmy’s, with five wins, as well as stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award, and more. Her most famous TV show was, of course, I Love Lucy. She starred, along with husband Desi, as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, a hilarious husband and wife combo. The show began on May 6, 1957, and rand for 6 seasons. Amazingly, it was the number one show in the country for four of those seasons. And even when it came to an end, it was the most popular show on television. She continued to play the role of Lucy Ricardo on several other shows after that, but none of those eclipsed the popularity of the original show. For her efforts, she ended up raking in $17 million every year for rerun royalties. Not too shabby!
The Ladies of The Brady Bunch
Ok, on the other end of the spectrum, as far as residuals, are the ladies of the Brady Bunch. The Brady Bunch was a classic early sitcom, and has retained its place as a cultural icon to this day. And while it only got so-so ratings while it originally aired, it ended up finding its real footing once it went into syndication. It began on March 8th, 1974, and ran for 5 seasons. It’s been airing for more than 50 years now, and new fans find the show every year. As such, you’d expect the female stars (and all of the stars, for that matter) to be raking in the dough from rerun residual payments. But sadly, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Despite being a part of an iconic family sitcom that has stood the test of time, the actresses of the Brady Bunch apparently do not receive ANY royalties from the many, many re-runnings of their beloved show. It’s a sad example of people who were taken advantage of in the early days of TV. These days, that kind of contract wouldn’t hold up. Though it should be noted that the nature of residual payments has potentially shifted again in the era of streaming. But no longer are there contracts that allow for ZERO residual payments. We should also note that this extended to all of the Brady Bunch actors, not just the women.
Female TV Star: Alex Borstein
Alex Borstein, who has been the voice of Lois Griffin on the long running animated hit, Family Guy, definitely doesn’t have the same issues as the ladies of the Brady Bunch. She’s man a ton of money for her work, and continues to be paid handsomely in residuals every year. For many years, people knew her much more for her voice than her live performances, but the success of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has meant that more and more people recognize her for that as well. But her most successful show is still Family Guy.
Her stellar job voicing the matriarch of the Griffin family has meant years of steady work. And since the show has been going for more than two decades, it’s safe to say she’s earned a TON of money simply from first airings. But she also continues to be paid a lot in residuals, racking in roughly $10 million every year just for that.
You might consider Julia Louis-Dreyfus to be the reigning queen of modern sitcoms. She’s managed to be one of the leads in 3 hit shows, with two going down as all time greats. Most people know her as Elaine from Seinfeld, where she starred for 9 seasons alongside the gang of Jerry, George, and Kramer. She was a beacon of comedic acting, bringing nuance and taste to her work as the hilarious Elaine Benes. Then she parlayed the success of the show to star in “The New Adventures of Old Christine.”
And while it didn’t come close to matching the uber-success of Seinfeld, it still ran for 5 seasons and 88 episodes. Then she led the show Veep, for HBO, as the bumbling and self centered Vice President. That show was a giant hit as well, cementing Julia’s status as a true comedy icon. But it seems that her most lucrative show is, not surprisingly, Seinfeld. Since the end of the show, she has reportedly raked in more than $400 million in residual payments.
Edie Falco’s turn as Carmela Soprano in HBO’s legendary The Sopranos, firmsly established her as one of the top actresses of her generation. The show, which began on June 10, 2007, and ran for 6 acclaimed seasons, followed the ups and downs of a mob family in New Jersey, and Edie garnered praise and acclaim for her work opposite the inimitable James Gandolfini. She was nominated seven times for Emmy’s for playing Carmela, and won two of them. She managed to parlay her success in that show to star in another popular offering, Nurse Jackie. And while she was likely paid handsomely for that role, it seems as if her biggest payouts are still from her residuals from The Sopranos. She reportedly has pulled in more than $26 million in residual payments since the show ended.
The Ladies of Gilligan’s Island
The actors on Gilligan’s Island suffered a similar fate as the ones from The Brady Bunch. Clearly, back in the day, actors were not given the kind of back end royalty deals that eventually they started getting. And the cast of Gilligan’s Island didn’t even get paid much in salary at the time either. In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, Dawn Welles revealed that they all made roughly $5000 a week, and maybe a total of $50K for the whole season. Not exactly what you’d assume for a show that had stood the test of time as a classic sitcom.
Gilligan’s Island, which told the tale of a shipwreck that left a boatful of tourists stranded on an island, began in 1964, and last for three seasons. It wasn’t an overwhelming hit when it was originally on the air, which perhaps was a reason why the cast was paid so little. But you’d expect that a show that then gained a huge amount of traction when it got syndicated, to the point where it became a cultural touchstone, that the cast would have reaped the benefits. But sadly, that wasn’t the case.
There was, however, an odd rumor that Dawn Wells was somehow the only cast member to get residual payments. She later debunked this rumor, and in fact ended up completely broke in her later years. The actress was forced to do a GoFundMe campaign at age 80, to help pay for her many medical bills. 5000 of her fans chipped in, and they were able to raise nearly $200K for her.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were any of these numbers surprising to you? Let us know in the comments section below!