We’ve covered the highest paid movie actors in the world, but now it’s time to turn the focus to TV (at least, here in the US). Variety has surveyed actors, executives, attorneys, agents, and more to try and give a clear portrait of what wages look like right now on the TV side of Hollywood, with three lovely charts for Drama and Comedy actors, as well as Reality personalities and hosts. There are some things to keep in mind, though, like how in some cases these numbers don’t include backend fees or deals made from licensing (like the highest paid actor list does). But overall it’s a pretty fascinating look at the the behind-the-scenes numbers.
For one, though the gender gap is pretty huge when it comes to movies, on TV things are more equitable. The TV problem comes when comparing the marquee leads — many of whom are movie stars — to the paychecks of series regulars (see: Empire’s Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson’s $175k an episode vs the Lyon kids getting $20k an episode). Having said that, Howard and Henson’s paychecks feel shortchanged when compared to others on the list (Kit Harington gets half a million an episode to pout in Game of Thrones?)
But the biggest reveal, or perhaps confirmation, are Netflix’s deep pockets. Many of the top payers are premium or streaming platforms, although the broadcast networks are still writing big paychecks, and usually for far more episodes. It’s also interesting that most of the highest paid actors and actresses are ones coming back for revival series, showing that the networks are certainly making it worth their while to dust off these old characters and return. But even though Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel top the list with individual episode salaries with Netflix and Gilmore Girls, they’re making $3 million over 4 episodes, whereas The Big Bang Theory leads are getting $1 million for 24 episodes a year.
Similarly, the drama paychecks overall seem to be higher, but they also tend to be for fewer episodes per season. It is clear, though, that movie stars are still mostly pulling in the biggest numbers for new projects, as more and more come to TV (which used to be considered a downgrade).
What shocks most people is the amount that the reality TV stars and hosts make, including on cable news. Judge Judy remains the Queen of TV with $47 million a year, thanks to her syndication deal (that’s where the real money is), and you can see the panelists on shows like The Voice are well paid ($13-$15 million) for their time spinning around in their chairs and quipping with each other. It’s actually kind of horrifying, in a way. But a good gig if you can get it!
The list is certainly not exhaustive, but as a snapshot it’s very telling. What surprised you the most, and who do you think is the least deserving of this paycheck? Or a shorter list: does anyone deserve to make that much?