Who Are TV's Top Earners?

Published August 11, 2010

| TVGuide

If you're an actor who lands a lead role on a TV series, you can count on a big payday. But it won't be as big as it used to be.

Network and studio executives tell TV Guide Magazine they've adopted a get-tough policy on salaries for stars of the new fall shows. While the salary for a lead has been $150,000 to $200,000 per episode in recent years, most deals for stars of new series were between $75,000 and $125,000. "No one broke the bank on anything this year," says one former studio head.

A case in point is a negotiation with a veteran film actor who for years has been coveted by several networks to do series TV. He was in discussions for a lead role in one of the new dramas that made the fall schedule. His asking price was $250,000. The network and the studio said no way. When the actor refused to go below $200,000, the network and studio moved on and hired someone else.

Why the hard line? The broadcast networks have been in a cost-cutting mode since ad revenues were hard-hit by the recession. While the ad market is recovering, they are also coping with a changing long-term financial picture as DVR playback and online viewing have greatly diminished the ratings on the second network run of shows, once the source of windfall profits.

There is an effort to keep talent costs down on their veteran hits as well. ABC's Brothers & Sisters, which once had four actors earning $150,000 or more per episode, will lose Rob Lowe and have only 18 episodes next season instead of the typical 22. Some regulars will appear in fewer episodes. Marg Helgenberger's new deal with CSI also calls for her to have a lighter workload next season and helps to trim the show's budget in the face of declining ratings.

If a show is on the rise, it's a different story. The stars of The Big Bang TheoryJim Parsons, Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco—all currently make well under $100,000 per episode. Their bank accounts are about to benefit from the show's rise to the top of Nielsen rankings among viewers in the 18 to 49 age group and a successful sale into syndication. "I think 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," says one network executive. "They'll get bumps from there and could get up to $300,000 an episode. If it's a hit show, you start paying."

Additional reporting by William Keck and Michael Schneider

The top earners, by category:

Drama (per episode)

Hugh Laurie
(House) $400,000+
Christopher Meloni & Mariska Hargitay
(Law & Order: SVU) $395,000 (each)
David Caruso
(CSI: Miami) $375,000
Marg Helgenberger
(CSI) $375,000
Mark Harmon
(NCIS) $375,000
Laurence Fishburne
(CSI) $350,000
Kyra Sedgwick
(The Closer)  $350,000
Denis Leary
(Rescue Me) $350,000
Gary Sinise
(CSI: NY ) $275,000
Patrick Dempsey
(Grey's Anatomy)  $250,000
David Boreanaz
(Bones) $200,000
Jeffrey Donovan
(Burn Notice) $200,000
Julianna Margulies
(The Good Wife ) $175,000
Dana Delany (
Body of Proof ) $150,000
Lauren Graham
(Parenthood) $150,000
Jada Pinkett Smith
(HawthoRNe) $150,000
Jimmy Smits
(Outlaw) $150,000
LL Cool J (
NCIS: Los Angeles) $125,000
Chris O'Donnell (
NCIS: Los Angeles) $125,000
Mark Feuerstein
(Royal Pains) $125,000
Jason Lee (
Memphis Beat) $125,000
Joe Mantegna (
Criminal Minds) $125,000
Tom Selleck
(Blue Bloods) $125,000
Michael Weatherly (
NCIS) $125,000
Matt Bomer (
White Collar) $100,000
Nathan Fillion
(Castle) $100,000
Thomas Gibson
(Criminal Minds) $100,000
Jon Hamm
(Mad Men) $100,000
Cole Hauser
(Chase)  $100,000
Alex O'Loughlin
(Hawaii Five-0) $100,000
Timothy Olyphant
(Justified  ) $100,000
Scott Caan (
Hawaii Five-0) $80,000
Angie Harmon
(Rizzoli & Isles) $75,000
Anna Paquin
(True Blood) $75,000
Blair Underwood
(The Event) $75,000
Zachary Levi
(Chuck) $60,000
Ian Somerhalder (
The Vampire Diaries) $40,000
Shailene Woodley
(The Secret Life of the American Teenager) $40,000
Ashley Tisdale
(Hellcats) $30,000

Late Night/Talk Syndication (per year)

Oprah Winfrey $315 million
Judge Judy Sheindlin $45 million
David Letterman
(The Late Show) $28 million
Jay Leno
(The Tonight Show) $25 million
Conan O'Brien
(The Conan O'Brien Show) $10 million
Ellen DeGeneres
(The Ellen DeGeneres Show) $8 million
Jimmy Kimmel
(Jimmy Kimmel Live) $6 million
Chelsea Handler
(Chelsea Lately) $3.5 million
George Lopez
(Lopez Tonight) $3.5 million

Reality (per year)

Ryan Seacrest
(American Idol) $15 million
Joel McHale
(The Soup) $2 million
Piers Morgan
(America's Got Talent) $2 million
Kate Gosselin
(Kate Plus 8) $250,000 per episode
Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi
(Jersey Shore) $30,000 per episode

Comedy (per episode)

Charlie Sheen
(Two and a Half Men) $1.25 million
Jon Cryer
(Two and a Half Men) $550,000
Marcia Cross
(Desperate Housewives) $400,000
Teri Hatcher
(Desperate Housewives) $400,000
Felicity Huffman
(Desperate Housewives) $400,000
Eva Longoria Parker
(Desperate Housewives) $400,000
Dan Castellaneta
(The Simpsons) $400,000
Julie Kavner
(The Simpsons) $400,000
Tina Fey
(30 Rock) $350,000
Jeremy Piven
(Entourage) $350,000
Steve Carell
(The Office) $297,000
Angus T. Jones
(Two and a Half Men) $250,000
David Duchovny
(Californication) $200,000
Kevin Dillon
(Entourage) $200,000
Adrian Grenier
(Entourage) $200,000
Miranda Cosgrove
(iCarly) $180,000
Edie Falco
(Nurse Jackie) $175,000
William Shatner
($#*! My Dad Says) $150,000
David Spade
(Rules of Engagement) $150,000
Ed O'Neill
(Modern Family) $100,000
Patrick Warburton
(Rules of Engagement) $85,000
Betty White
(Hot in Cleveland) $75,000
Kaley Cuoco
(The Big Bang Theory) $60,000
Johnny Galecki
(The Big Bang Theory) $60,000
Ty Burrell
(Modern Family) $50,000
Jane Lynch
(Glee) $50,000
Jim Parsons
(The Big Bang Theory) $40,000
Matthew Morrison
(Glee) $30,000
Selena Gomez
(Wizards of Waverly Place) $30,000
Dylan and Cole Sprouse
(The Suite Life of Zack and Cody) $20,000 (each)
Rico Rodriguez
(Modern Family) $15,000

News (per year)

Matt Lauer
(Today)  $16 million +
Katie Couric
(CBS) $15 million
Brian Williams
(NBC) $12.5 million
Diane Sawyer
(ABC) $12 million
Meredith Vieira
(Today) $11 million
Bill O'Reilly
(Fox News) $10 million
George Stephanopoulos
(ABC) $8 million
Keith Olbermann
(MSNBC) $7 million
Shepard Smith
(Fox News) $7 million
Wolf Blitzer
(CNN) $3 million
Christiane Amanpour
(ABC) $2 million
Lawrence O'Donnell
(MSNBC) $2 million
Eliot Spitzer
(CNN) $500,000

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