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Who Earns What on TV? Stars' Pay Deals Revealed

by Catherine Lawson, posted Aug 11th 2010 6:15AM
Oprah Winfrey arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute gala, New YorkHow much?! 'TV Guide Magazine' has published its list of the top earners on TV, and while the contents of some celebrity pay packets are eye-watering, and the stars of a hit show can still expect to be making big money, the go-go days of swoon-inducing mega-deals may be over.

According to tvguide.com, studio and network executives have taken a "get-tough policy" when negotiating contracts for the upcoming fall shows. The salary for a lead role has reportedly dropped from $150,000 to $200,000 per episode to around $75,000 to $125,00. Still not exactly chump change, but "no one broke the bank this year on anything" says a former studio head.

Struggling in the face of falling ad revenues and falling re-run profits due to the rise of DVRs and on-line viewing, executives have stood firm on the new hardball policy. Sources say that one much sought-after, veteran actor was recently in talks for the lead in a new show. However, his asking price was $250,000 per episode. When he wouldn't lower it to below $200,000 per episode, executives passed on him and hired someone else instead.

This summer has seen a veritable cull as budgets were trimmed and costly actors were axed from shows like 'Criminal Minds' and 'Brothers & Sisters.' Other cost-cutting exercises have involved producing fewer episodes, reducing the number of episodes an actor appears in, and hiring-in less expensive talent from overseas.

Even at their new, reduced, rate U.S. TV shows pay a lot more, and provide more employment opportunities for actors from places like the U.K. (Hugh Laurie, Jason Isaacs, Joseph Fiennes), Ireland (Jason O'Mara, Colm Meaney, Jonathan Rhys Myers) and Australia (Anna Torv, John Noble, Jesse Spencer).

However, it's not all bad news. The stars of a hit show can expect hefty pay raises in return for high ratings. For example, the stars of breakout hit 'The Big Bang Theory' all currently make less than $100,000 per episode. However, one network executive has predicted that "they'll give an extra year to their studio, Warner Bros., in exchange for each of them getting $150,000 to $200,000 an episode. ... They'll get bumps from there and could get up to $300,000 an episode. If it's a hit show, you start paying."

So just how much do the stars earn? Top of the pile is still Oprah Winfrey, who rakes in a mind-boggling $315 million per year. Her fellow late night and talk show hosts also bring home enough to make a Wall Streeter consider a career change, ranging from Judge Judy on $45 million, through Jay Leno ($25 million) all the way down to Chelsea Handler and George Lopez on $3.5 million apiece.

Hugh Laurie ('House') remains the biggest earner for a drama lead, pulling in over $400,000 per episode, but Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay ('Law & Order: SVU') aren't far behind with $395,000 per episode each. Compared to those sums, stars like Michael Weatherley ('NCIS', $125,000), Thomas Gibson ('Criminal Minds,' $100,000) and Anna Paquin ('True Blood,' $75,000) seem like value for money, and the salaries paid to Zachary Levi ('Chuck,' $60,000) and Ian Somerhalder ('The Vampire Diaries,' $30,000) start to feel almost paltry.

Over in comedy the gap between top and bottom's even wider. Despite his recent problems, Charlie Sheen still makes more than $1 million per episode for 'Two and a Half Men.' And his co-stars aren't doing too shabbily either: Jon Cryer and Angus T. Jones get $550,000 and $250,000 respectively. (Nice college fund, Angus.) But spare a thought for the stars of 'Glee' down at the bottom: Jane Lynch gets $50,000 per episode and Matthew Morrison gets $30,000. And as a display of the new austerity in pay deals, comedy stars like Tina Fey ('30 Rock') and Jeremy Piven ('Entourage') make $350,000 an episode, while more recent signings (William Shatner, Ed O'Neill, David Spade) have netted less than half that.

Reality show hosts and news anchors are still doing very nicely thank you on their per annum deals. Matt Lauer, Katie Couric and Ryan Seacrest are all reckoned to earn at least $15 million a year, whille in the middle of the press pack Meredith Vieira gets $11 million, Bill O'Reilly gets $10 million, Keith Olbermann's on $7 million, Joel McHale and Piers Morgan are tied on $2 million, and Eliot Spitzer trails in last on $500,000.

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If and that is a big if the Administration in the schools was doing their job there would be very few so called bad teachers. The first three years of a new teachers career they can be not hired or renewed for no reason at all. So it is hardly the teachers unions fault that there are inept teachers teaching our kids.
Obama is NO friend to education. RTTT how much can a state prostitute itself to get a few measlie dollars. The money can not be used to lower class sizes. Which with the type of children in our schools today is what is needed.
Tell your child to be an actor when they grow up. Of course for every succeesful one there are many that are still trying.

August 15 2010 at 4:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think some of you are just jealous of what actors & athletes make you wish you were making that much money. Doesn't matter what actor or athletes make I don't lose sleep over how much they make unlike some of you.

August 14 2010 at 2:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I just don't get it. Actors and athletes make ridiculous amounts of money, yet people are always complaining about teacher salaries and want them cut. Most teachers work very hard and are acutely aware of the fact that they are responsible for the educations of future generations. People have no problem spending hundreds (or thousands) of dollars a year on entertainment, but vote down school millages/taxes to keep up the buildings and keep down class sizes. Let's get our priorities straight!

August 14 2010 at 1:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Lisa's comment

Teachers did it to themselves by aligning with the in-the-Democrats-pocket Teachers Unions.

According to teachers unions, there's no such thing as a bad teacher. They all deserve their jobs and all deserve to just keep making more money.

Well, here's a newsflash, teachers probably should make more money... However, that's never going to happen as long as the Teachers Unions are the ones negotiating the contracts. Nobody, in good conscience, would allow a teachers union contract to pass. All they're doing is looking out for their own, not the best interests of the society, and certainl not the interests of the kids. Maybe if the Unions wouldn't defend to the death those teachers who were obviously illsuited for the job, and were realistic about taking responsibility for the educational learnings and deficiencies of their students, they'd have had the money a long time ago. But, as a society, we're not going to be held hostage by prick teachers who think their shit doesn't stink. When teachers are willing to admit that there are awful teachers out there that simply need to be fired, rather than kept on because of Democrat politics, perhaps we'd be more inclined to be sympathetic to the good teachers out there... But since you good teachers have thrown your lot in with the bad ones... sucks to be you. Think about the kids first and your union second, and perhaps things will change.

August 14 2010 at 1:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It doesn't matter how much actor or athlete makes. Yes teachers should get more money I think the unions have hurt teachers than helped union only cares about themselfs than helping the little guy out.

August 14 2010 at 2:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Chaz Goodman

Only thing that I am upset about is, I didn't become an actor. I wish people would stop faulting others for what money they make. Anyone of you can feel free to put in all the hard work that it takes to become a successful actor. Do any of you know how many more actors never make it and spend their lives waiting tables? Stop hating everyone that you think has more than you do. Start making the most of what ever it is that you have. Making tons of money really isn't everything. Yes it is nice, but there really is far more to life.

August 14 2010 at 1:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You folks demanding that rich folk pay SS tax on 100% of their income... you are aware, are you not, that by the time you're 72 you've gotten back every dollar you ever put into SS, right? And if you force them to put in more money, they'll end up getting more money, right? The more you put in, the more you get out. The more you put in for the short term, the more you get out by living longer. If a millionaire is forced to pay SS tax on 100% of his income, and that individual lives to 85, you've just given them more money than a lot of people make in a year...

These people already pay Federal taxes beyond a third of their income. CA and NY, the industry hotspots, both have excessive taxes as well, bringing the amount someone takes home from there, in their bracket, less than half what they actually make... but you don't want to stop there. No... you want them to be taxed more. Why? Well, probably because more than half the American public no longer actually pays Federal income tax. That's first... and second is that you clearly have no idea how taxes vs. an entitlement tax works.

Federal income tax takes your income and charges you a percent for making it. They're already paying out over a third, will pay nearly 40% when they let the taxes increase (Yes, another brilliant move to increase taxes during a recession...), but you want more... So you suggest they get hit with SS tax.

All fine and dandy, were it not that they'll get all that money back, plus a lot more. The more you put into the SS system, the more you get back. 7 years under the system and you have back everything you put in. From that point on, the entitlement is little more than senior welfare... which, oddly, you want to increase for rich folk. They're forced to pay on a maximum amount because taking in money beyond that just gives them more on the back end. Raising SS tax on the rich actually will pay the rich more. Unless, of course, you're actually suggesting we means test Social Security... At which point it becomes a program not for the society, but for the poor of the society... and that's the end of SS. So, attack what you don't understand, demand money from people you have no right to demand it from with no understanding of the ramifications of the demand, and in general, keep up the good work destroying this nation.

August 14 2010 at 1:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

an actor doesn't have some supernatural power to influence people' if you agree with what an actor say's the blame is on you not them, it's called free will!

August 14 2010 at 12:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey, we make them rich. Buying the products and watching their shows. this isn't what worries me. The following does. Has anybody seen on TV, what happened in Georgia, with the SECTION 8 applications. It's not these people with money that concerns me. It's the 30,000 people standing in 100degree weather just to fill out the few apps that were available for housing. I don't blame the emtertainers with all their money,at least they are entertaining me. I blame the politicians. They go into office with a little money and leave office millionairs. How does this happen people? They are robbing us blind and the some of them SO POWER HUNGRY, they have lost their minds. The rest of them just don't know what the hell they are doing.

August 14 2010 at 12:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't begrudge what anyone makes for doing their job. However, in America there is a real disconnect between the entertainment industry and the majority of Americans. To quote Shakespeare, "The lies in ourselves, not in the stars." The American public holds meat puppets, as actors are known in the trade, as demi semi-gods for some strange reason. If the public didn't buy all those celebrity magazines, watch all those vapid celebrity "news" shows and flock for autographs the market would dictate a severe lowering of "star" value. If you do not like the amount of money paid to actors, don't watch their shows, don't buy the products advertised, and don't feel the need to "know" them.
The only issue I have with the above article is the reference to $30K an episode as "seeming paltry". How many families live on less than that a year? At 15 - 20 episodes a year that is $450- $600K annually, not too shabby for an obivously low talent on an under performing show. New York State's top unemployment benefit is $405 a week, just over $21K a year, deemed an acceptable amount to live on.
The only true outrage is that the writers don't make anywhere near actors' pay. It is the writing for shows like 'Law and Order' that push its popularity where as tight nubile bodies with large breasts drove 'Baywatch's' popularity.

August 14 2010 at 11:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

No wonder these self-centered elitists feel that WE should listen to THEIR political opinions...after all, THEY make in one episode what we make in 5 years. They MUST be smarter than the rest of us....no?

August 14 2010 at 11:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Remember this, folks:

These are the people who influence your vote for the leaders of this country - the people who decide how much tax YOU should pay. The current cap on income that is taxed for Social Security is $110,000 per year. These people WILL draw the maximum amount when they apply, and will have lived a life where they have the best number one top rated medical care on Earth.

The average income in this country is about $40,000 per year.
Poverty level income for a family of 4 in 2009 was $20,050.

The average income earner will be allowed to pay Social Security tax on 100% of his income, will spend his life paying for the best medical care he can afford, and will draw average Social Security when he retires, less than $1,200 per month in 2010.

Why do you continue to listen to these people and elect leaders who continue to give them favors? Why do you feel athelitic and entertainment superstars and politicians should not pay Social Security tax on 100% of their incomes?

Case in point: The city supervisor of Bell, CA getting $800,000 per year plus perks, and the average wage for the city is under $40,000.

Will you never wake up and revolt with your votes?

August 14 2010 at 11:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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