As entertainment giants like Disney, WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal take to the battlefield in the intensifying streaming wars, nine-figure deals are being struck not only to secure talent and new content but to amass a back catalog of popular films and television series. That's led to NBCUniversal reportedly paying more than $500 million for the streaming rights to The Office, HBO Max putting down $425 million for Friends. However, that's chicken feed compared to what will likely be shelled out for the rights to The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men.
According to Deadline, WarnerMedia's announced HBO Max platform is likely to spend at least $1.5 billion for the packed rights to the two sitcoms. Distributed by Warner Bros., both shows are co-created by Chuck Lorre and produced under his banner.
A ratings juggernaut, The Big Bang Theory concluded its 12-season run in May on CBS, finishing at No. 2 in the Nielsen ratings. The final season is available for streaming on CBS All Access, but those 24 episodes would presumably be part of the staggering deal with HBO Max.
While The Big Bang Theory is obviously the prize in such a rights deal, Two and a Half Men shouldn't be dismissed. Perhaps best known for the public feud in 2011 between star Charlie Sheen and Lorre that led to, first, a costly production halt and, then, the actor's dismissal, Two and a Half Men performed well during its 12 seasons on CBS (Ashton Kutcher replaced Sheen in Season 9), and is virtually ubiquitous in syndication.
A television veteran, Lorre also created or co-created such comedies as Grace Under Fire, Cybil, Dharma & Greg, and the Big Bang Theory spinoff Young Sheldon, which is already renewed for a fourth season before the third has even premiered. It will be a while yet before that sitcom, which centers on the childhood of Jim Parsons' Sheldon Cooper, will be part of any syndication or streaming deals.
Given the nature of such agreements, it's unknown how much of that $1.5 billion will go to Chuck Lorre Productions, Lorre's co-creators and Warner Bros. Television, and how much will go to the casts of the two series. By Season 10, The Big Bang Theory stars Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Kunal Nayyar and Simon Helberg were each making $1 million per episode -- the highest on television -- but they later took a 10-percent cut to bolster the salaries of co-stars Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch. Presumably they have lucrative contract clauses that reward them fell for any syndication and streaming deals.
For potential comparison, Friends reportedly makes $1 billion annually in syndication, with each of the stars receiving about 2 percent of that -- or $20 million a year.