TV writer shares how much he makes in residuals: ‘Talk about passive income’
You may not know the name Michael Jamin, but chances are you know his characters.
The veteran TV writer has written some breakout hits over the years, including King of the Hill and Beavis and Butthead. But recently, Jamin also gained some notoriety on TikTok, where he regularly shares industry secrets, tips for aspiring writers and even the honest truth about how much TV writers get paid in residuals each month.
In fact, that last one is the topic of his latest video to go viral. The video now has 6.5 million views.
“If I’m holding green envelopes, it means it’s once again time to play How Much Does a TV Writer Make in Residuals — January edition,” says Jamin.
As he explains, every time one of his shows gets rerun on TV, he gets a cut of the profit, which is otherwise known as a residual. That said, there seems to be a lot of public confusion about what that really means and whether or not it’s “fair.”
“I often get trolled by people who don’t like the fact that I get money, thinking that maybe it comes out of their pocket,” Jamin admits. “But it doesn’t, I can assure you it doesn’t.”
“When a musician writes a song, and it gets replayed on the radio, the musician gets more money every time,” he explains.
The same thing goes for TV writers, and rightly so.
Jamin has been trying to demystify things by making his TikTok account a safe space for pay transparency, whether he gets a nice chunk of change one month or a measly few cents. (Because, yes, sometimes a residual check really is that low.)
In his latest video, he starts by opening up a check from Wilfred, a sitcom that aired for four seasons from 2011 to 2014. And, for whatever reason, he gets two checks for the same exact amount: $73.
If that sounds a bit weird to you, Jamin agrees.
“Someone’s going to say, ‘Why are you getting two checks?’” he says in the TikTok. “I don’t know. I don’t work in Accounts Receivable.”
Next up are three residual checks for Rules of Engagement, which ran on CBS from 2007 to 2013 and starred David Spade and Oliver Hudson, among others.
The first one earned him a whopping $34 — another seemingly arbitrary number that Jamin doesn’t fully understand. But the second one is even more of a head-scratcher, coming in at $1.09. Finally, the third one is written out to $82.25.
“By the way, the more successful a show is, the more money you’re going to make,” explains Jamin as he continues to thumb through his mail.
That proves to be true when he opens another check for Just Shoot Me, a more high-profile sitcom he wrote starring David Spade, Wendie Malick and Laura San Giacomo. It ran for seven seasons, starting in 1997 and ending in 2003.
This time, Jamin sees a check for $110.
But the biggest cut by far is a check he receives for a song he once wrote for King of the Hill, which comes out to $209.
In the comments, a lot of people were pretty floored by how low the cuts were.
“Wow, you can afford a dozen eggs this month,” joked one person.
“Why don’t people think writers should be paid just like any other profession?” asked someone else.
But as others pointed out, this isn’t the only compensation TV writers get for their work. Like most jobs, they get an initial paycheck — the residuals, even if they’re super low, are extra.
“Love that!” wrote one TikToker. “Talk about passive income.”
“I’d like to be a TV writer, please,” added someone else.
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