How much do you think William Shatner makes each year from royalties on Star Trek: The Original Series? According to a recent tweet from the original Captain Kirk, that total would be zero dollars.
William Shatner revealed this information in response to a tweet that has since been deleted. The tweet came from a Twitter user who suggested, among other things, that he made money from his time on the original series playing James T. Kirk. He had the following to say in response:
William Shatner has a history of making drama on Twitter and has gotten good at packing a lot into 140 characters. We could get into what celebrities do or don’t owe their fans. However, the key takeaway here is that he has not earned any residual payments from the airing of reruns or streaming of Star Trek: The Original Series. Also, he seems a little bitter about it. Why?
On one hand, the actor has made most of his income from playing this particular role. Why not just be grateful, right? It’s true that there have been many other William Shatner movies, and no one will forget his poetry or musical career. However, it’s his time as Kirk that has paid his bills. After 1973, he was in Star Trek: The Animated Series, six Star Trek live-action films, and the many books he has co-written. He should be receiving residual checks from those works. He is also likely paid for his speaking engagements. Since most of his fame comes from his time as Captain Kirk, that lends to how much he is likely to earn from any other project he takes part in. It also did a lot to help him gain his 2.5 million Twitter followers, which at least keeps him entertained.
So why might he care about the lack of royalties from Star Trek: The Original Series? Why point this out at all? Well, for one thing, it’s controversial. And William Shatner loves him some Twitter controversy. But for another thing, residual payments can mean a lot of income. The original series had a strong fanbase when it was canceled after three seasons in 1969. Its popularity picked up during reruns in the 1970s.
How much money could we potentially be talking? Well, for a series like Friends, the actors are said to pull in approximately 20 million dollars a year in residual payments. That is a far cry from the approximately $20,000 they made per episode filming the first season. Of course, Friends is an outlier, but so is Star Trek: The Original Series. It has been over 50 years since the show was canceled. During that time, with residual payments for his work, there was a strong potential for many millions of dollars.
With the lack of royalties on a franchise that is currently mapped out to continue airing until 2027, there is some room for bitterness.
Of course, it is entirely possible that William Shatner doesn’t care at all. He has loved fighting on Twitter since the early days of the platform. He hasn’t been shy about saying things to stir the pot. Whether he’s getting in a fight with George Takei or having a bit of a go at Star Wars, he is ready to argue with fans or other celebrities. In 2014, he told Mashable that he found social media freeing.
“I’m from the old studio system where there were departments of people that spoke on your behalf, giving the studio’s version of what I liked, what I do, what I like to eat, etc. So Twitter and social media is liberating for someone like me. I can speak my mind, my thoughts, my ideas and usually they don’t get filtered. That may be a good thing or a bad thing!”
While the lack of residual payments from the original series must be irritating and definitely surprised many fans, it has given William Shatner a long career and a healthy Twitter following to share all those thoughts with.