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Television not only provides many hours of entertainment for viewers and critics alike, it could also provide a substantial livelihood for the actors involved. Some of the long-running and most popular TV series also have significant price tags attached to them, especially where the talent is concerned. Here are some of television’s highest-paid actors and actresses to date.
Among the highest-paid television actors to date is William Petersen, who played Gil Grissom on the long-running series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Despite the fact that Petersen left the show to pursue other projects following its ninth season, the thespian still managed to command $500,000 per episode. While the next highest-paid cast member was actress Marg Helgenberger (Catherine Willows), who earned a reported $325,000 per episode at the time. Petersen appeared in 10 out of 24 episodes during the ninth season, which netted him $5 million before he departed the show. Part of the actor’s high salary could be attributed to his character’s popularity, as well as his continuing status as a producer on the show. His character has several thousand YouTube videos devoted to him and his relationships, along with daily news sites that keep fans updated on Petersen’s personal life and career endeavors. He has made a handful of uncredited appearances since exiting the show and his presence remains a strong underlying theme within the series, especially in relation to his wife, fellow CSI Sara Sidle (Jorga Fox). However, Petersen has said he has no plans to return as a series regular.
Tina Fey is also among television’s highest-paid actors and actresses to date. The former Saturday Night Live (SNL) performer and writer loosely based episodes of her hit sitcom, 30 Rock, off her own experiences working for SNL, which subsequently earned her $500,000 per episode. In comparison, Alec Baldwin, whom Fey has credited with much of the show’s early success, earned $300,000 per episode. However, 30 Rock was the brainchild of the actress-writer-producer and Fey not only starred in every episode of the long-running comedy, but also wrote and produced every episode of the series. During its seven year run, 30 Rock earned a total of six Emmys, two Golden Globes, and five Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Another well-known actor who has managed to command a hefty price tag for his TV work is Ashton Kutcher, who famously replaced Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men following Sheen’s infamous battle with series creator, Chuck Lorre. For his efforts, Kutcher has reportedly earned $750,000 per episode. While his paycheck is substantially less than Sheen’s was as top banana, he earns more than co-star Jon Cryer, who pulls in an estimated $600,000 per episode, and approximately three times what he earned during his time on hit sitcom, That 70′s Show, as the dim-witted Michael Kelso, which earned him a reported $250,000 to $300,000 an episode. It was recently announced that Two and a Half Men will end after this upcoming fall season.
A new standard was set in the TV industry when the cast of Friends entered into collective negotiation and demanded equal pay, which subsequently placed them among television’s highest-paid actors and actresses to date. During the first two seasons of the series, the actors learned they were being paid different salaries ranging from $20,000 to $40,000 per episode. Prior to the third season filming, the actors entered into collective bargaining with Warner Brothers and demanded to be paid equally, which ultimately netted each actor $75,000 per episode. Moving forward, the cast continued their collective bargaining technique and saw their salaries jump exponentially each season, as America welcomed and embraced the Friends. This strategy ultimately ended up securing the cast $1 million each per episode during the show’s final two seasons. Additionally, the cast also received syndication royalties beginning in Season 5, which was unprecedented at the time for stars who did not partially own the show. Their successful negotiation can partially be attributed to their desire to be seen as a true ensemble cast with no character given more screen time or focus. When the show ended in 2004, 52.5 million people watched the series finale, which ranks it among the top ten watched series finales in television history.
Saving the highest earner for last among television’s highest-paid actors and actresses to date, Charlie Sheen rounds out the list as a Guinness Book record holder for ‘Highest Paid TV Actor Per Episode’ at $1.8 million per episode. Sheen’s salary has always been notorious among the TV industry, but it was clear that CBS attributed much of Two and a Half Men’s commercial success to his escapades both on-screen and off. Ultimately, Sheen would take his battle with addiction and series creator and executive producer, Chuck Lorre, too far and his antics would cut short one season of the show to 16 episodes. During which time, he still earned $30 million. In response, Warner Brothers banned Sheen from entering the set, Sheen demanded a 50 percent raise and claimed he was being underpaid in comparison to the show’s earnings. After much fan fare and publicity, he was eventually released from his contract and the show was rebooted with Ashton Kutcher. In the wake of his dismissal from Two and a Half Men, Sheen has returned to television work and starred in the FX show Anger Management.
By Leigh Haugh