For decades, there was a chasm between television and movie actors, with the vast majority of stars sticking to their respective medium. However, that gap has begun to close over the past few years. Nowadays, an actor or actress can be seen in both movie and TV roles at the same time.
The change could be due to television’s increased production quality, limited episodic commitments, or increased salaries. Going based off a recent report of salary estimations, we’d go with the latter. Times have changed, and actors and actresses on the small screen are now making far more than audiences probably expect.
But how much do they make? According to the aforementioned report, here are the 16 Highest Paid Actors In TV.
16. Bull – Michael Weatherly ($300,000)
Michael Weatherly is most well-known for playing Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo on CBS’ NCIS, a role which he played for 13 seasons before exiting the series earlier this year. Unlike many stars, though, he didn’t take much of a break before returning to TV. The network cast Weatherly in the leading role of their new series, Bull, a comedy-drama inspired by the early days of Phil McGraw’s famed talk show, Dr. Phil.
Bull premiered last month and has received largely negative reviews from critics. However, since Weatherly is starring in the leading role and has been with the network for well over a decade, he’s been receiving a massive salary of $300,000 per episode. While that number is the lowest on our list, it’s substantially higher than what most actors earn per episode, even on broadcast television. Bull has not yet been ordered to series, so there’s no telling if Weatherly will continue raking in the big bucks.
15. Designated Survivor – Kiefer Sutherland ($300,000)
Kiefer Sutherland has had quite a prolific career, starring in a variety of movies and TV shows, including some voice work in video games. But he’ll always be remembered for his iconic role as Jack Bauer on 24, which originally ended in 2010. After taking some time off, Sutherland returned to the small screen in the short-lived series Touch. Shortly after that, he reprised his role of Jack Bauer in 2014, in the limited sequel series, 24: Live Another Day.
Despite 24 returning to television next year, Kiefer Sutherland has opted not to reprise his role for the third time and has instead decided to move forward with a new TV series — Designated Survivor. Starring as the President of the United States Tom Kirkman, Sutherland is once again in a leading role, and this time, he’s making $300,000 per episode, a hefty amount for a star of a series in its first season. But judging by the series’ record-breaking premiere, Designated Survivor is off to a great start.
14. The Simpsons – Nancy Cartwright, Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Yeardley Smith ($315,000)
It should come as no surprise that The Simpsons and the actors that voice the characters are on this list. The series is one of the longest-running programs on television, having been on the air for an extraordinary 28 seasons. It’s one of the most recognizable shows in history and has been adapted into numerous forms of media, including comics, movies, and games, and it even has its own amusement park at Universal Studios.
With a TV show so popular, it only makes sense that its stars receive lavish salaries. Series stars Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, and Yeardley Smith, who play Homer, Marge, Bart, and Lisa Simpson, respectively, all earn $315,000 per episode as of this year. Despite criticism that the show’s quality has declined in recent years, The Simpsons has shown no signs of slowing down. The series’ stars, therefore, should have steady jobs for years to come.
13. Big Little Lies – Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon ($350,000)
It’s becoming increasingly more common to see movie actors make the jump to the small screen to star in small-scale productions from HBO and Netflix. Instead of committing to 20+ episodes on broadcast or cable television, premium networks and streaming services allow actors and actresses to film a handful of episodes without cutting too heavily into their movie schedules. One such production is HBO’s upcoming comedy series, Big Little Lies, based on the novel of the same name by Liane Moriarty.
Big Little Lies features an all-star cast, including Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Alexander Skarsgard, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern, and Adam Scott, amongst others. Those first two stars, however, will receive the bulk of the salary budget, for they are not only executive producers for the series, but also its two leading stars, playing Celeste Wright and Madeline Martha Mackenzie, respectively. The David E. Kelley-run series is set to premiere on HBO sometime next year, so it remains to be seen whether or not the massive salaries of Kidman and Witherspoon will prove to be money well spent.
12. Altered Carbon – Joel Kinnaman ($350,000)
Netflix has been on a roll recently with a slew of hit science-fiction TV shows and movies, such as Sense8, ARQ, and of course, Stranger Things. The streaming service isn’t looking to stop anytime soon, for they have ordered ten episodes of Altered Carbon, an adaptation of Richard K. Morgan’s novel of the same name, created by Laeta Kalogridis.
Set over 500 years in the future, Altered Carbon is a cyberpunk story centering on former elite soldier Takeshi Kovacs, who is being played by Joel Kinnaman in the HBO adaptation. Since Kinnaman has worked with Netflix before, having starred in the fourth season of House of Cards as well as The Killing, the latter of which was picked up for a third and fourth season by Netflix after it was initially canceled by AMC. Given the results of those two collaborations, it makes sense that they would work together again.
Since Kinnaman arguably has more star power now than he did a few years ago, especially considering that he starred as Rick Flag in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad this past summer, Netflix has agreed to pay him an estimated $350,000 per episode.
11. Maniac – Emma Stone, Jonah Hill ($350,000)
Fans of Greg Mottola’s Superbad will be excited to know that Emma Stone and Jonah Hill are reuniting for what is looking to be another exciting comedy. Instead of a movie, though, the duo will be starring together in Netflix’s upcoming dark comedy, Maniac, based on the Norwegian TV series of the same name.
Created and executive produced by Cary Fukunaga, who directed last year’s Beasts of No Nation as well as the entire first season of True Detective, Maniac stars Jonah Hill as a mental patient who is living a fantasy life through his dreams. It seems safe to assume that Emma Stone’s character will be a major part of that fantasy life.
Both Jonah Hill and Emma Stone are stars in their own right, which is why the streaming service is paying them each a substantial sum of $350,000 per episode to star in the new series. While we know Maniac is scheduled to release sometime this year, a specific release date has not yet been set.
10. Santa Clarita Diet – Drew Barrymore ($350,000)
As previously mentioned, Netflix is showing no signs of slowing down in regards to original content. With a string of hits under its belt, the streaming service is looking to add more comedy shows to its flourishing catalog. And one of those new comedies is Victor Fresco’s upcoming series, Santa Clarita Diet.
The new show is set to star Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant as Sheila and Joel, respectively, a married couple who work together as real estate agents in Santa Clarita, CA. The series focuses on the couple’s life as it makes a “dark turn” after Sheila undergoes “a dramatic change” in her own life.
Although she has been out of the spotlight for a few years, Drew Barrymore is still one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood. And casting her in a leading role in their new comedy series can only benefit Netflix, which is why they are paying her $350,000 per episode for the series’ first season, which will consist of (the streaming giant’s now-standard season order) 13 episodes.
9. Grey’s Anatomy – Ellen Pompeo ($400,000)
Grey’s Anatomy made headlines last year when Patrick Dempsey, who played Dr. Derek Shepherd for 11 seasons, was suddenly killed off. He was one of the original few cast members to still be on the show at the time. And now, two seasons after his exit, only four of the original cast members are left, including Ellen Pompeo, who plays the series’ titular character, Meredith Grey.
For her role as Dr. Meredith Grey, Ellen Pompeo justifiably receives an estimated $400,000 per episode as of this year. Although viewership has waned over the years, Grey’s Anatomy used to rake in an average of over 22 million viewers per episode back in its heyday, thus making the series a cultural phenomenon.
Many critics have likened Grey’s Anatomy‘s initial popularity to that of Friends, and fans have claimed to have learned simple medical procedures, such as CPR, by watching the show. Accounting for all of that, it’s no wonder Grey’s Anatomy is still on the air, and none of it would have been possible without Ellen Pompeo.
8. Ballers – Dwayne Johnson ($400,000)
Dwayne Johnson has been dubbed the blockbuster savior in Hollywood, having helped boost franchises such as G.I. Joe and Fast & Furious. With a prolific career such as his, as well as being named one of the most influential people of the year, it only makes sense that Johnson would eventually land a leading role in his own TV series.
Last year, HBO premiered their new comedy-drama, Ballers, centering on a former NFL player turned financial advisor, Spencer Strasmore, played by Dwayne Johnson. Since the series airs on HBO — and since Johnson draws in a big audience — the premium network pays him a salary of $400,000 per episode, which accumulates to $4 million per season.
Although Ballers has received middling reviews, the series is still a hit, which is why HBO has ordered a third season. However, for people looking to see Dwayne Johnson in other roles, they have an extensive list to choose from. He’ll be starring in multiple movies over the course of the next year, including Moana, Fast 8, and Jumanji.
He’s just about the most in-demand actor in the business, and while he only places eighth on this list, his small screen earnings are chump change in comparison to what he makes making movies. He’s currently the second highest-paid actor in Hollywood, and he’ll reportedly be raking in upwards of $64 million in 2016 alone.
7. Law & Order: SVU – Mariska Hargitay ($450,000)
Along with The Simpsons, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is one of the longest-running shows on television today, having been on the air for 18 seasons. Originally, it was a spinoff of the original Law & Order series. But unlike the other three spinoff shows that comprise the Law & Order franchise, the Special Victims Unit series is the only one that is still on the air — and that has a lot to do with the series’ main star, Mariska Hargitay, who plays Lieutenant Olivia Benson.
Although a handful of cast members (such as Ice-T and Richard Belzer) have been around for the bulk of the series, Mariska Hargitay is the only series regular that’s been around since the very beginning. Honestly, the series wouldn’t be what it is without her, and that is why she’s paid an estimated $450,000 per episode by NBC. To put it in perspective, at one point, she and former co-star Christopher Meloni’s salaries were the considered the highest in the industry for a drama series.
6. Homeland – Claire Danes ($450,000)
The first two seasons of Showtime’s Homeland — based on the Israeli TV series Prisoners of War by Gideon Raff — received universal acclaim and even garnered multiple Emmy Award and Golden Globe wins for best Drama Series and Best Actor. The high-intensity, politically-charged nature of the series made it an instant hit with audiences. Despite a drop in both quality and ratings over the years, Homeland has been renewed through season eight, which will be the series’ last.
Along with Mandy Patinkin, Claire Danes (who plays the series’ protagonist, CIA case officer Carrie Mathison) is the only other original cast member that still remains as a series regular. Ever since the series debuted, Danes has been continually nominated for Best Actress at the Emmy Awards, and has been routinely nominated at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards, and Screen Actors Guild, amongst others. She is as responsible for the series’ success as anyone, which is why she earns an eyebrow-raising $450,000 per episode.
5. Game of Thrones – Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Lena Heady, Peter Dinklage ($500,000)
Since its debut in 2010, Game of Thrones — based upon George R.R. Martin’s novel series A Song of Ice and Fire — has become a global phenomenon. It’s not only the most watched series in HBO history, but it’s also surpassed the majority of basic cable and broadcast television shows in the ratings department. And as of this year, Game of Thrones has amassed a whopping 38 Emmy Awards, thus making it the most-awarded drama series in history, and second most awarded series overall.
While the series’ remarkable overarching narrative plays an integral part in its success, Game of Thrones would not be where it’s at today without the performances of the core cast. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister), Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen), Kit Harington (Jon Snow), Lena Heady (Cersei Lannister), and Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) each earn a plentiful $500,000 per episode, which may account for the uptick in each episode’s production budget in season six.
4. House of Cards – Kevin Spacey ($500,000)
Of all the shows on this list, House of Cards can be considered the most revolutionary — not for its content, necessarily, but for the network it airs on. House of Cards put Netflix on the map in terms of being a legitimate source of original content when it premiered in 2013. The critically acclaimed political drama received an astonishing nine Emmy Award nominations for its first season — a first for an online streaming service. The series paved the way for other streaming services like Hulu and Amazon Prime to join the bandwagon.
House of Cards is a politically-charged show by nature, but it’s Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright’s outstanding performances that allow the series to push boundaries. But since Spacey is considered the face of the franchise, he tends to receive a higher paying salary — $500,000 per episode. Although the series only airs 13 episodes per season, to put the salary into perspective, that’s quite a bit more than the average broadcast TV series star could ever hope to earn.
3. NCIS – Mark Harmon ($525,000)
Well, we did say the average broadcast series, didn’t we? A spinoff of the hit law series JAG, NCIS (an acronym for Naval Criminal Investigative Service) debuted in 2003 and has gone on to become the most-watched show on television, continually averaging over 19 million viewers per episode. In fact, in the 2012-13 TV season, the series was the most-watched program on the small screen, beating out ratings giants like Americal Idol and Sunday Night Football for the top spot. Since its premiere, the series has spawned two successful spinoff shows of its own: NCIS: Los Angeles and NCIS: New Orleans.
With the recent exit of Michael Weatherly, who played Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, Mark Harmon is one of the few remaining actors who has been in the series since the very beginning. And considering that he plays the series’ central character, Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, he’s become perhaps the most essential actor on television. After all, he is the series’ big draw, which means he deserves a substantial salary — $525,000 per episode, to be exact.
2. Gilmore Girls – Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel ($750,000)
Gilmore Girls is one of the most beloved shows of all-time, with an undying fan base that spans millions. After seven seasons on the air, The CW (formerly The WB) canceled the series in 2007, largely due to the inability to meet a substantial, financial arrangement with the main cast members. And since series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino opted not to renew her contract following the network merger, the series ultimately concluded on a low note.
Now, nine years later, Netflix and Sherman-Palladino have worked hard to bring back Gilmore Girls — with everyone involved — so fans could get the proper send-off they always wanted. In November, Netflix will release four, 90-minute episodes — one episode for each season. Series stars Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel, who play Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, respectively, will each receive $750,000 per episode, thus totaling $3 million for the truncated farewell season.
1. The Big Bang Theory – Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Jim Parsons ($1 million)
Being one of the most-watched comedy shows on television definitely has its perks, namely high-paying salaries for its central stars. Although the first few seasons of The Big Bang Theory remained low in the ratings, the CBS series has since grown exponentially, continually raking in an average of over 18 million viewers per episode.
The road to getting The Big Bang Theory on the air was an arduous one. Series creators Chuck Lorre (Two & A Half Men, Grace Under Fire) and Bill Prady (Gilmore Girls, The Muppets) retooled the show a number of times until they found the right formula with four geeky male scientists and one female aspiring actress who lives next door.
Of the cast, Jim Parsons (Sheldon), Kaley Cuoco (Penny), and Johnny Galecki (Leonard) make up the main stars. They each earn a massive $1 million per episode. And since the series airs on network television, and therefore produces roughly 24 episodes per season, each star makes a hefty amount each year. CBS must really love their headlining trio, because they’re paying them nearly $75 million per season.
Which of television’s brightest stars do you think are overpaid? Which entry surprised you the most? Sound off in the comments.