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Paul Haggis Earned Tens Of Millions Of Dollars From “Walker Texas Ranger”… A Show He Worked On For Just TWO Weeks!

Paul Haggis rewrote the “Walker, Texas Ranger” pilot for two weeks in 1992 before going on to win an Academy Award for both screenwriting and directing. He received co-creator credit as payment for his work. and an unintended huge windfall in syndication revenues.

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The rights to create a TV pilot based on the exploits of Sergeant Cordell Walker, a member of the Texas Rangers law enforcement department, were acquired by CBS at some point in 1992. The television division of Cannon Films, a low-budget film studio, was responsible for the original idea for the program. The films “Invasion U.S.A.” from 1985 and “The Delta Force” from 1986, both of which starring a little-known American martial artist named Chuck Norris, are most famously produced by Cannon Films. Walker was portrayed by Chuck, and all the other casting choices were made without difficulty. There was only one issue. Studio officials had second thoughts about the script a month before “Walker, Texas Ranger” (WTR) was set to shoot its pilot on CBS. This actually happens all the time, especially on a project studios think has the potential to be a big hit.

The CBS executives sought out up-and-coming TV writer Paul Haggis to “punch up” their pilot script in order to allay their concerns. Haggis had a more than 15-year career in television that had been somewhat successful before joining WTR. For “Who’s the Boss,” “The Facts of Life,” and “Diff’rent Strokes,” he had written and produced. His biggest successes were between 1989’s “City,” which he wrote and produced, and 1987’s “thirtysomething,” for which he acted as writer, producer, and director. Paul wrote his version of the Walker, Texas Ranger pilot in less than two weeks and submitted it to CBS since he didn’t think the show had much potential as a television series. Paul received a “Co-Creator” credit on the show as payment for his two weeks of freelancing work.

Paul Haggis - Walker Texas Ranger Fortune
Paul Haggis – Walker Texas Ranger Fortune / Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Walker Texas Ranger Fortune by Paul Haggis. Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Today, “Walker, Texas Ranger” is most known for being a corny television show punchline that everyone enjoys making fun of. Conan O’Brien used excerpts from WTR on the NBC Tonight Show toward the conclusion of his tenure there to lampoon the show’s clumsy writing and acting. You might be surprised to learn that “Walker, Texas Ranger” was a huge hit while it was on the air. On April 21, 1993, WTR had its CBS debut, and audiences all around America took to it right away. A little under 12 million viewers watched each show on average throughout the first season. For comparison, “The Big Bang Theory” on CBS averaged 8 million viewers for its first season. When the second season began in 1993, it was just as successful, and by the time the third season began in 1995, WTR had become a top 20 program. The eight seasons and 202 episodes of “Walker, Texas Ranger” were broadcast between 1993 until its conclusion on May 19, 2001. A TV movie, a brief spinoff, and, believe it or not, three novels were also produced as a result of the show. And thanks to that little co-creator credit earned for two weeks of work, WTR’s success put a ton of money in Paul Haggis’ bank account.

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Paul Haggis was entitled to a number of extremely lucrative income streams as the co-creator. For instance, he probably received a “character fee” of about $3000 per episode for his assistance in developing the series regular characters of the program. While $3000 per episode might not sound like a lot, this fee amounted to roughly $75,000 a year for eight years ($600,000 total), without Paul needing to lift a finger. But as you should have realized by now, Paul’s true bonanza is international syndication rights, which dwarfs his $75,000 annual salary.

Owning some of a show’s “points” is the only genuine method to become absurdly wealthy in television. A point is just a proportional measure of ownership out of a possible 100 points. If you earn one point, you are eligible to get one percent of the revenue from the sale of the show’s DVDs or syndication. A typical first-time program maker would most likely score three or four points for their work. A creator who has some achievement and experience on their résumé can receive 10 points. Chuck Lorre, a strong super-producer with a stellar track record, may easily demand 30 points to make a show for a network. TBS and Fox each paid $2 million per episode for the syndication rights to the first 100 episodes of Lorre’s “The Big Bang Theory” episodes. This particular deal alone brought around $200 million. According to reports, Chuck has 30 points on Big Bang and made $60 million from just this deal. Each point on The Big Bang Theory will reportedly bring in $15–20 million throughout its entire run. That means, Chuck Lorre’s 30 points will eventually earn $450 – 600 MILLION off The Big Bang Theory alone.

But things improve. Similar arrangements are used to sell rights nation by country, and syndication agreements typically have a five-year lifespan. The shows are sold again five years later. WTR has had four sales rounds since the show’s initial syndication in 1997. It should be noted that the sum paid each episode decreases when syndication is up for renewal after five years. For our purposes we are going to conservatively assume that the second round sells for 75% of the first round, the third round drops to 50% and the fourth drops to 25%. People stop paying exorbitant premiums for episodes that have already been seen ten times by everyone in the world because they don’t want to continue doing so.

For someone like Paul Haggis, an up-and-coming star with a hot resume, it’s not unreasonable to assume that he was able to negotiate 10 points to work on Walker’s pilot for the desperate studio execs. But let’s be cautious and assume that his two weeks of freelancing produced 5 points (two points more than someone with no experience at all). After the fourth season concluded in May 1997, “Walker, Texas Ranger” was immediately put up for sale in the American syndication market. The USA Network was the successful bidder and agreed to purchase the rights for a whopping $750,000 per episode.

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(Photo by Sebastian Reuter/Getty Images)

(Image by Getty Images/Sebastian Reuter)

The process of international syndication differs slightly. The studio hedges its risk and lowers costs by selling international rights before the show even airs its first episode. Studios essentially sell the worldwide rights at a loss upfront to fast recoup certain upfront guarantees. Because overseas markets are less desirable to advertisers, international networks do not pay as much for a show. For our purposes, we’ll conservatively assume that revenue from international syndicated sales is equal to 50% of revenue from American sales. Sure, some markets like Canada and Europe pay more than that, but lots of countries like Brazil or Estonia pay way less. Here is an estimate of how much “Walker, Texas Ranger” has likely earned so far during its syndication career using these numbers:

First run sale: 1997 – 2002

    Second run sale: 2002 – 2007 (75% of first run)

      Third run sale: 2007 – 2013 (50% of first run)

        Fourth run sale: 2014 – 2019 (25% of first run)

          $562.5 million in total throughout all four rounds.

          “It was my most prosperous endeavor to date. work for two weeks. My script was never even used by them!”

          Paul wasn’t always as proud of his corny contribution to television history, despite the amazing money. In fact, Paul was inspired to write and direct the 2004 film “Crash,” for which he received two Academy Awards, by the shame of having a connection to Walker (Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture). According to him:

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          “I agreed to write the Walker, Texas Ranger pilot because I thought it would just go away, but it became this huge hit and I remember waking up at 3 or 4 in the morning in a cold sweat, dripping wet. Really, I was soaked. Just now, I had a mental image of my gravestone, which read, “Paul Haggis: Creator of Walker Texas Ranger.” Making these films was motivated by the simple desire to erase that memory from my mind.

          Could life have been as horrible even if he hadn’t written and directed Crash and had $30–$50 million in the bank? In any case, this instance will likely be remembered in Hollywood lore as the most money ever made in the shortest amount of time for the least amount of work! So, Paul, add that to your list of accomplishments!

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