With streaming services and premium cable networks investing in original television series, the small screen’s stock is on the rise. And that success means there’s a lot of money heading right for the bank accounts of TV’s biggest stars. But how exactly do their earnings stack up?
Television spares no expense in bringing the best names in the business to your screen, handing out massive single-episode payouts to talented actors and actresses of the medium. And with 10 to 25 episodes per season, these current 20 television stars make a lot more than you might think!
1. Milo Ventimiglia ($85,000): Ventimiglia earned every penny as Jack Pearson on NBC’s hit show This Is Us, and his salary could be on the rise soon: after securing 13 million viewers for the season 2 debut, the entire cast allegedly banded together and asked for a raise.
This Is Us / NBC
2. Ellie Kemper ($150,000): The former The Office star earned big as the titular character of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The show was originally meant for NBC, but Netflix loved it so much they met with the show’s producers and wrangled it away.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt / Netflix
3. Bob Odenkirk ($150,000): First, he played the criminal lawyer Saul Goodman in AMC’s Breaking Bad. Then Odenkirk reprised the role in the prequel origin series, Better Call Saul. Thanks to his single-episode payouts, the actor can afford a better attorney than the one he played on TV!
Better Call Saul / AMC
4. Elisabeth Moss ($200,000): “I have very high standards for television,” Moss said. “My thing is… if you’re not going to go all in, then you’d better not do it at all.” Well, this actress went all in as Offred on Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale—and she was rewarded with a big paycheck and an Emmy!
The Handmaid’s Tale / Hulu
5. Julia Louis-Dreyfus ($250,000): Playing Selina Meyer, a former United States senator and Vice President of the United States in HBO’s Veep, earned Louis-Dreyfus a payday larger than the annual salary of the actual U.S. Vice President (which is $243,500 per year)!
VEEP / HBO
6. Kerry Washington ($250,000): Washington performed the role of Olivia Pope, a Washington D.C. crisis manager, so well that she negotiated a raise from $80,000 per episode. In 2017, she also made that Cars 3 money! Consider it handled.
Scandal / ABC
7. Anthony Hopkins ($300,000): The HBO sci-fi drama Westworld had a $100 million budget to work with and used some to secure the A-list actor. “The expense is one thing,” producer J.J. Abrams said of the hit show, “but the results are entirely onscreen.”
Westworld / HBO
8. Jason Bateman and Laura Linney ($300,000): Bateman and Linney won’t need to launder these (legal) single-episode payouts they earned for their work on Netflix’s Ozark. Linney wasn’t interested in a TV series until she heard Batemen would be her costar.
Ozark / Netflix
9. Emmy Rossum ($350,000): After a 2016 standoff with Showtime, the Shameless actress won a paycheck that matched costar William H. Macy’s, who played her in-show father. “Playing Fiona Gallagher has been one of the great privileges of my life,” she later tweeted.
Shameless / Showtime
10. Billy Bob Thornton ($350,000): Thornton jumped to television with a 2014 role in Fargo, and he stuck around the small screen to play Billy McBride in Goliath. “If you want to do realistic… heavier acting stuff,” he said, “you do it on Amazon or Netflix or… HBO.”
Goliath / Amazon
11. Claire Danes ($450,000): Danes originally made as much as her Homeland costar, Damian Lewis, when the political thriller debuted in 2011—about $250,000. After his departure, however, the studio had some extra money to put towards keeping Danes.
Homeland / Showtime
12. Mariska Hargitay ($450,000): For 19 seasons, Hargitay has been a mainstay on Law & Order: SVU as Detective Olivia Benson, and she couldn’t be more grateful for the role. “Every day I get on my knees and thank God for this opportunity,” she said. Perhaps her $450,000-per-episode paycheck has a little something to do with it!
Law and Order: SVU / NBC
13. Kevin Costner ($500,000): Paramount Network Chief, Kevin Kay, shelled out half a million for Costner to play John Dutton in Yellowstone. “We’re open for business,” he explained, “and we’re willing to pay top-tier actors whatever their quotes are.”
Yellowstone / Paramount
14. Mayim Bialik ($500,000): The main cast of The Big Bang Theory took a pay cut so their fellow actress could get a raise herself, but she was just thrilled to work on a show that showed people “learning to work within their differences.”
The Big Bang Theory / CBS
15. Cast of Modern Family ($500,000): Ed O’Neill, Sofia Vergara, Ty Burrell, Julie Bowen, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Eric Stonestreet cashed in on Modern Family‘s success and, in 2017, earned another big raise. They’d come a long way from $65,000 they each earned in 2012!
Modern Family / ABC
16. Cast of Game of Thrones ($500,000): Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, and Kit Harington played the “game of thrones” at the negotiating table and won, proving it pays to be a Lannister, Targaryen, or Targaryen-Stark hybrid!
Game of Thrones / HBO
17. Mark Harmon ($525,000): For his work fighting crime as NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Harmon (right) earned a big paycheck. “It’s pretty simple,” the president of CBS said. “Viewers everywhere love NCIS,” and Harmon is a big reason why.
NCIS / CBS
18. Ellen Pompeo ($575,000): The Grey’s Anatomy star shared how she negotiated her way to becoming TV’s highest-paid actress. Men go into negotiations “hard and ask for the world,” she said. So she did the same, demanding what she felt she was worth—and won.
Grey’s Anatomy / ABC
19. Dwayne Johnson ($650,000): Johnson raked in huge single-episode payouts in HBO’s Ballers as Spencer Strasmore, a financial planner for athletes. And he earned it: “He’s going 150 miles an hour every day,” his stand-in, Alvin Street, said.
Ballers / HBO
20. Cast of The Big Bang Theory ($900,000): Simon Helberg, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Jim Parsons, and Kunal Nayyar combined their collective genius to negotiate monster contracts for their roles in what was once the most-watched show on television.
The Big Bang Theory / CBS
Acting is hard work, and these stars were rewarded with massive single-episode payouts. Television seems to be raking in some serious dough!
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