Ahhh, the 90s. That memorable era of yesterday that, for some bizarre reason, we look back on so fondly. (Seriously, it wasn’t all Pearl Jam and “Rachel” cuts! We were also introduced to Tickle-Me-Elmo, MC Hammer pants and Eiffel 65.) That said, TV was great. Just look at the many 90s shows that are getting a second life—whether it’s classic comedies like “Friends,” which have found a new generation of fans in syndication, or popular reboots like Fuller House and Will & Grace (revived).
As an awkward pre-teen boy, I enjoyed living vicariously through the 90s stars of the small screen. But now, as an adult who makes a living in the entertainment industry, I know that TV doesn’t always give us an accurate description of how life works—especially when it comes to finances.
In fact, we can find countless examples of how our favorite small-screen characters were unrealistic with their money. Take these money myths perpetuated by the popular protagonists of NBC’s “Must See TV” lineup.
1. You don’t need a big income to support a desirable, big-city lifestyle.
Let’s start with my personal favorite “Frasier” (which may yet be revived). Kelsey Grammer’s portrayal of Dr. Frasier Crane earned him four Emmys, but left me with a completely unrealistic sense of how much it actually costs to live well in a big city like Seattle.
Sure, the Harvard-educated doc might have banked a ton of money while working in private practice before moving there—but, for argument’s sake, let’s assume the non-syndicated, AM talk radio psychiatrist isn’t drawing down his investments for opera tickets and fine wine.
According to Payscale, radio show hosts earn just about $45,000 today. (And even at the height of historical data, top-end radio show hosts in Washington made less than $115,000.) That’s not bad for following your dreams, but to afford a luxury, three-bedroom condo that realtors have priced somewhere in the $2 million range, drive a BMW and hire a live-in caretaker for his dad? I don’t think so.
2. Don’t sweat the small splurges.
The mid-90s were a big time in coffee culture with Howard Schultz-inspired java joints popping up on every corner. But dang, the “Friends” cast shelled out a lot. According to writer Kit Lovelace, who assigned himself the enviable task of re-watching every episode, the crew easily dropped more than $2,000 on coffee over 10 seasons—and that’s assuming each cup cost a very conservative $1.50.
Granted, on the spectrum of what we spend money on, take-out coffee isn’t the worst. But small, everyday splurges can add up to make a big dent in your budget if you aren’t careful—especially if you’re already shelling out thousands for an apartment in Greenwich Village on a starting chef’s salary. (Ahem, Monica.)
3. You can make money pursuing your passion without much effort or hustle.
I started my career in stand up, so the trials and tribulations of fledgling comic Jerry Seinfeld were especially near and dear to my heart. Well, except for the part where he rarely ever took nights away from his friends to perform, had minimal TV exposure and could still afford to live alone in a (relatively) spacious Upper West Side apartment. Oh, and anyone remember his computer? Kind of junky by 2017 standards, but in the 90s, that would have cost a pretty penny.
Some people will point to Jerry’s semi-regular “Tonight Show” appearances, but even in 2017, a network TV late-night set only fetches a comedian $1,200, or just about one-third of his monthly rent. Which makes it challenging to cover a high-end Manhattan racquetball club membership off the back of roughly one standup set a year.
In reality, respectable money can be made by being a funny person—or an artist, actor, AM radio host or any other job you love—but it takes work. In my experience, opening for bigger acts, punching up TV and movie scripts and selling jokes are all traditional methods that established, but not superstar, comedians use to generate additional income while pursuing their passion for performing. But those opportunities typically don’t just fall into the laps of comics who stand around all night in their kitchen, making small talk about Superman.