Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Cash Register Never Stops Ringing

In 1951, Jack Narz narrated the opening episode of “Superman.” At the end of the show, with his voice crescendoing, he said, “Join us every week for the adventures of Superman!” He was paid $150. Almost every year thereafter he received a residual royalty check of $1.98.

It’s not a bad way to live, if your checks are large enough. Jack’s were not, of course, but now they are welcome envelopes in the mail.

Residual payments were good for six broadcasts, much later changed to no limits for repeats. Before I put this blog together, I wrote to the Writers Guild of America, West, to see if M*A*S*H began in time for its actors to benefit from this “forever” clause. Since the show has never stopped being broadcast, they could stand to make a good piece of change every year: 20% of the rerun costs go toward residuals.

Many actors in commercials can earn four times their salary from residuals, so let those commercials run and run.

It’s not unlike a composer’s royalties for each time (figured on average stats) songs are played, distributed from the license fee “bank” paid into by broadcasters, entertainment spots, and such. You can have a handy six- or seven-figure income just from the songs you wrote any number of years ago. Be a George Gershwin, a Cole Porter, a Beatle and you are set for life, as are your heirs and theirs.