Last year, NBC's "Friends" – which ended its 10-year run in 2004 – was the most-watched comedy on broadcast or cable TV, with 96.7 billion minutes viewed, a 30% jump from 2019. "Andy Griffith" grew 29%, to 58.3 billion viewing minutes, while ABC's "Roseanne" saw a 70% viewing surge to 20.1 billion minutes.
For a bit of context, check out this 2015 article also from USA Today.
Well, through the magic of syndication revenue, Friends pulls in a whopping $1 billion each year for Warner Bros. Here's the kicker though: That translates into about a $20 million annual paycheck each for Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer, who each make 2% of that syndication income.Without going into the rabbit hole of valuation and Hollywood accounting, we can't start to approximate the money the Andy Griffith Show has brought in, but the Friends comparison gives us some idea of the kind of numbers we're talking about. It's true that the business of television has changed over the past few years but the overall impact of streaming has been to pump tons of money into the industry so I doubt the overall amounts have dropped much.
Even if we ignore the pandemic spike (which is probably a mistake. Once a new audience gets invested in an old show, they tend to stay invested) and assume considerably lower revenue for Griffith compared to Friends per viewing hour, it seems safe to say that the show has brought in billions in 2021 dollars between syndication, streaming and merchandising over the past sixty-one years and will probably go on to bring in billions more.
Keep in mind that for more than fifty of those sixty-one years, we're talking virtually pure profit, a steady, safe, maintenance-free nine-figure check coming in every year.
There's a good chance that Griffith may go on to surpass Lucy in terms of longevity, but while the show may turn out to be the extreme, it is not an outlier. In addition to Lucy there are a number of other old shows that have continued to attract and hold new audiences. MASH, Columbo, Golden Girls, Friends, Seinfeld, the Simpsons, and anything from Dick Wolf all come to mind and we haven't even cracked the lid on the franchises and reimaginings (Star Trek, the Addams Family, Battlestar, Perry Mason).
Content accumulates. Intellectual property rules. With apologies to the long-time readers who have been through this before, these two principles should be top of mind in any reporting on the business of television and streaming, but it is difficult to find mention of them in any coverage outside of the trades. As a result, the value of most of what you read on this, particularly from the East Coast press, ranges from limited to non-existent.