The numbers are in, and if an actor’s character doesn’t have a friend named Sheldon or a relative named Pritchett (or if he isn’t named Sheldon or Pritchett), chances are he didn’t make this year’s list of top-paid TV actors.
The stars of The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family dominate our list, with Big Bang’s Jim Parsons nabbing the top spot thanks to $27.5 million earned in the year to June 1.
“When I read Big Bang it was definitely special to me. I would definitely not presume to say I thought it was going to be a hit show or be picked up, but I know that I was being presented with a character that was, in its own weird way, a really good fit, that I thought I could do,” Parsons told Variety.
As a member of the top-paid cast on television, and the top-rated show, Parsons makes $1 million per episode, as do fellow listees Johnny Galecki (No. 2, $26.5 million), Simon Helberg (No. 3, $26 million) and Kunal Nayyar (No. 4, $25 million). That means each earns $24 million per season from the show – plus a chunk of backend. Their salaries will decrease next year, as they, along with castmate Kaley Cuoco, each took a $100,000-per-episode pay cut for the upcoming season to give co-stars Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch higher salaries.
Though he has the same salary as other Big Bang stars, Parsons edges them out in total earnings thanks to a seven-figure endorsement deal with Intel, a role in Oscar-nominated Hidden Figures and a short stint on Sirius radio. Next year, we can expect to see his earnings increase (even with that Big Bang salary decrease) thanks to Young Sheldon, the new CBS comedy which he narrates and produces.
Combined, the 10 actors on this year’s list made $185 million. Earnings estimates are based on data from Nielsen, Box Office Mojo and IMDB, as well as interviews with industry insiders. All figures are pretax; fees for agents, managers and lawyers are not deducted.
The Modern Family cast takes four spots on the list, led by Ty Burrell (No. 6, $13.5 million). Like the cast of The Big Bang Theory, the Modern Family stars negotiated together for their salary – nearly $4 million per episode, plus profit participation – so they each earn the same amount.
Burrell, like Parsons, out-earned his castmates thanks to lucrative endorsement deals with the likes of Gain and The National Association of Realtors, as well as roles in the animated films Storks and Finding Dory.
“I had been running from this moment for years—a deeply personal rejection from the one thing I loved and could do—knowing we were going to meet down the road,” Burrell wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times earlier this year about his first meeting with an agent. The agent, who told Burrell his features were too big for TV and that he should shave his arms, was apparently wrong.
Rounding out the list are Mark Harmon (No. 5, $19 million) and Kevin Spacey (No. 8, $12 million), who serve as executive producers on NCIS and House of Cards, respectively. For Harmon, that role is particularly lucrative; he not only gets per-episode salaries for acting and producing, but also a piece of the show’s profit, as well as a share of the profits of NCIS: New Orleans, for which he also serves as an executive producer. With NCIS extremely popular in syndication, this money adds up.
While the top-earning TV actress, Sofia Vergara, managed to out-earn her male counterpart Parsons by $14 million, the combined earnings of the TV actors—$185 million—is still more than the $156.5 million of the TV actresses. This has more to do with the lack of high-paying roles for women on TV than a salary difference once they’ve achieved those roles. For example, the core cast members of The Big Bang Theory each gets paid $1 million per episode, guaranteeing them spots on these lists, but that core cast includes four men and only one woman. According to a recent report by San Diego State University, only 42% of speaking characters on television are women or girls, and only 11% of all programs feature casts with more female than male characters.
The same problem – a lack of roles – accounts for the lack of diversity on the list, which features only one actor of color: Big Bang’s Kunal Nayyar. But the landscape of television is shifting, and TV seems to be getting more diverse: Minority actors comprised 11.4% of the lead roles on broadcast scripted television, according to UCLA’s 2017 Hollywood Diversity Report. That’s an increase of more than 3 percentage points over 2016.
The longer shows with diverse casts are on air, the more leverage their stars will have to negotiate higher salaries. So don’t be surprised to see stars like Anthony Anderson, Terrence Howard and Sterling K. Brown on the list in years to come. – Written by ,
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