TV Salaries Revealed, From Ellen DeGeneres to Katy Perry and The Rock

TV Stars Salary Survay Who Makes
Photos: Rex/Shutterstock; Illustration: Variety

The explosion of demand for high-end TV series and the emergence of deep-pocketed new buyers such as Netflix and Amazon has been an enormous windfall for marquee talent. Just ask Robert De Niro, or David Letterman, or Katy Perry.

Stars with brand names are more in demand than ever as dozens of competing outlets search for anything that will help a show stand out from the pack. The new business models that govern streaming services have also had the effect of raising upfront payments to top talent because traditional forms of generating a profit from a hit series — through international sales and off-network syndication — are no longer an option.

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Among the winners in the past year on the drama side were Robert De Niro, who is in line to receive an eye-popping $775,00 per episode for the untitled Amazon drama series from director David O. Russell. Other big gainers include “Shameless” stars Emmy Rossum and William H. Macy and the “Ozark” duo of Jason Bateman and Laura Linney.

On the flip side, lesser-known actors such as Justin Hartley and Chrissy Metz started out with modest (by comparison) episodic fees for the first season of “This Is Us,” although they are surely poised to add more zeroes in the future. Claire Foy has been collecting awards and praise for her work as Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix’s “The Crown,” but her Season 1 episodic fee reflects the markedly lower pay scales for British productions.

Here’s a sampling of estimates for the paychecks banked by some of TV’s most notable stars. In some cases, the per episode fees reflect additional compensation for their work as producers or for their profit participation stakes.

DRAMA
ACTOR SHOW/NETWORK Per-Episode Estimate
Robert De Niro Untitled David O. Russell project/Amazon $775,000
Mark Harmon NCIS/CBS $525,000
Emilia Clarke Game of Thrones/HBO $500,000
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau Game of Thrones/HBO $500,000
Peter Dinklage Game of Thrones/HBO $500,000
Kit Harington Game of Thrones/HBO $500,000
Lena Headey Game of Thrones/HBO $500,000
Kevin Costner Yellowstone/Paramount $500,000
Kevin Spacey House of Cards/Netflix $500,000
Claire Danes Homeland/Showtime $450,000
Ellen Pompeo Grey’s Anatomy/ABC $450,000
William H. Macy Shameless/Showtime $350,000
Emmy Rossum Shameless/Showtime $350,000
Billy Bob Thornton Goliath/Amazon $350,000
Jason Bateman Ozark/Netflix $300,000
Laura Linney Ozark/Netflix $300,000
Anthony Hopkins Westworld/HBO $300,000
Kiefer Sutherland Designated Survivor/ABC $300,000
James Spader The Blacklist/NBC $300,000
Kerry Washington Scandal/ABC $250,000
Elisabeth Moss The Handmaid’s Tale/Hulu $200,000
Jeffrey Donovan Shut Eye/Hulu $175,000
Michael Weatherly Bull/CBS $175,000
Bob Odenkirk Better Call Saul/AMC $150,000
Caitriona Balfe Outlander/Starz $100,000
Jonathan Banks Better Call Saul/AMC $100,000
Sam Heughan Outlander/Starz $100,000
Mandy Moore This Is Us/NBC $85,000
Milo Ventimiglia This Is Us/NBC $85,000
Sterling K. Brown This Is Us/NBC $75,000
Claire Foy The Crown/Netflix $40,000
Justin Hartley This Is Us/NBC $40,000
Chrissy Metz This Is Us/NBC $40,000
Note: Some of these figures include fees for producing and back-end compensation.

It’s good to be Dwayne Johnson. The versatile superstar has become one of TV’s highest-paid comedy players thanks to the success of HBO’s “Ballers.” Meanwhile, Donald Glover is betting on the long-tail theory with his FX series “Atlanta,” agreeing to more modest fees upfront in exchange for a larger share of the backend.

The “Will & Grace” quartet of Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Megan Mullally and Sean P. Hayes are back in the top echelon for the NBC revival series. The “Modern Family” and “Big Bang Theory” troupes had high-profile contract negotiations that plumped some paychecks. But it’s not all about the money. The original five stars of “Big Bang” agreed to slight pay cuts to help fund raises for their co-stars Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch.

COMEDY
ACTOR SHOW/NETWORK Per-Episode Estimate
Kaley Cuoco The Big Bang Theory/CBS $900,000
Johnny Galecki The Big Bang Theory/CBS $900,000
Simon Helberg The Big Bang Theory/CBS $900,000
Kunal Nayyar The Big Bang Theory/CBS $900,000
Jim Parsons The Big Bang Theory/CBS $900,000
Dwayne Johnson Ballers/HBO $650,000
Mayim Bialik The Big Bang Theory/CBS $500,000
Julie Bowen Modern Family/ABC $500,000
Ty Burrell Modern Family/ABC $500,000
Jesse Tyler Ferguson Modern Family/ABC $500,000
Ed O’Neill Modern Family/ABC $500,000
Melissa Rauch The Big Bang Theory/CBS $500,000
Eric Stonestreet Modern Family/ABC $500,000
Sofia Vergara Modern Family/ABC $500,000
Jeffrey Tambor Transparent/Amazon $275,000
Roseanne Barr Roseanne/ABC $250,000
John Goodman Roseanne/ABC $250,000
Sean P. Hayes Will & Grace/NBC $250,000
Patricia Heaton The Middle/ABC $250,000
Julia Louis-Dreyfus Veep/HBO $250,000
Eric McCormack Will & Grace/NBC $250,000
Debra Messing Will & Grace/NBC $250,000
Megan Mullally Will & Grace/NBC $250,000
Kevin James Kevin Can Wait/CBS $200,000
Matt LeBlanc Man With a Plan/CBS $200,000
Ellie Kemper Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt/Netflix $150,000
Nick Nolte Graves/Epix $125,000
Leah Remini Kevin Can Wait/CBS $125,000
Craig Robinson Ghosted/Fox $125,000
Adam Scott Ghosted/Fox $125,000
Sela Ward Graves/Epix $125,000
Tituss Burgess Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt/Netflix $90,000
Donald Glover Atlanta/FX $75,000

How badly did Netflix want David Letterman on its platform? Enough to pay him an estimated $2 million per episode for a six-episode commitment for an in-depth interview series. That number has sent jaws dropping throughout the unscripted TV community. So did Katy Perry’s deal to preside as a judge over ABC’s new iteration of “American Idol.” Nevertheless, it’s two daytime syndication stars who pace the race for big paychecks among reality, news and host talent. DeGeneres has seen her salary and profit participation on “Ellen” soar in recent years. “Judge Judy” boss Judith Sheindlin is right behind her, and she stands to reap another eight-figure check this year on the sale of the show’s library to CBS.

REALITY/NEWS/HOST
ACTOR SHOW/NETWORK ANNUAL SALARY ESTIMATE
Ellen DeGeneres The Ellen DeGeneres Show /Syndicated $50m
Judith Sheindlin Judge Judy/Syndicated $47m
Matt Lauer Today/NBC $25m
Katy Perry American Idol/ABC $25m
Kelly Ripa Live With Kelly & Ryan/Syndicated $22m
Megyn Kelly NBC News $18m
Robin Roberts Good Morning America/ABC $18m
Jimmy Fallon The Tonight Show/NBC $16m
Stephen Colbert The Late Show/CBS $15m
Jimmy Kimmel Jimmy Kimmel Live/ABC $15m
Pat Sajak Wheel of Fortune/Syndicated $15m
Ryan Seacrest Live With Kelly & Ryan/Syndicated $15m
George Stephanopoulos ABC News $15m
Anderson Cooper CNN $12m
David Letterman Untitled interview show/Netflix* $12m
Conan O’Brien Conan/TBS $12m
Ryan Seacrest American Idol/ABC $12m
Alec Baldwin Match Game/ABC $3m
Jamie Foxx Beat Shazam/Fox $3m
Mike Myers The Gong Show/ABC $3m
Note: Some of these figures include fees for producing and back-end compensation.
*Netflix has ordered six episodes of the series

(Pictured: Dwayne Johnson, Robert De Niro, Emilia Clarke and David Letterman)

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  1. Maaz Kalim says:

    Y-U-C-K………!!!!!!!!! Although, I was ‘surprised’ by wordings of certain sections of media that “The Rock” earns individually more than the lead cast of ‘GoT’ is “shocking revelation.”

    One of such articles helped me reach here, so looking at the table, it’s indeed SHOCKING that he is being generous.

  2. Jwcques Strappe says:

    These salaries per new episode don’t tell the entire story since these actors collect residual payments every time they appear in a syndicated episode anywhere or for every DVD sold of their respective series. How many local and foreign television stations are airing old Big Bang Theory episodes once or more times a day, not to mention streaming services offering multiple seasons? Insane.

  3. Allan Falk says:

    Jimmy Fallon The Tonight Show/NBC $16m
    Stephen Colbert The Late Show/CBS $15m
    Jimmy Kimmel Live/ABC $15m

    no no no

  4. Allan Falk says:

    REALITY/NEWS/HOST salaries make me puke !

  5. Jimmy Green says:

    Bob Odenkirk is not worth 1/10th of that!

  6. Jack says:

    This is sick and disgusting, especially Ellen. Just disgusting.

  7. Unnecessary says:

    Imagine all the mouths this money could feed if everyone on this list cut their salaries in half. They’re entertainers. Why does anyone have to make this much money? America’s teachers, nurses, etc. live below the poverty line. What they do is important, not entertainers.

  8. Weary says:

    Galecki @ 900 large?? Geez.

  9. The entire cast of The BBT is RIDICULOUSLY overpaid, one of the unfunniest sitcoms ever on TV. Sorry, I know it’s popular but it’s a horribly written, pandering mess.

  10. IT--//--IT says:

    The INTEL RUN Hollywood franchise slum and its well paid agents

    Where would the RED CHINA handover TREASON op have been without them ?

  11. Jordan says:

    Anybody know what Mariska is earning these days? I’m thinking it’s still hovering around $500,000, but it’s interesting that she wasn’t included in this list.

  12. CJB says:

    Nice to know the productions have this kind of money to spend.
    So let’s talk about the rate for day-players and guest-stars who can’t earn above scale anymore.
    Maybe it’s time for the unions to start looking into pushing scale up to double or triple what the middle class actors earn today?

  13. Gerard Kennelly says:

    is Emilia Clarke’s game of thrones acting 12 ½ times better than Claire Foy’s golden globe and SAG winning work in The Crown ?

    • SK902111 says:

      No but the audience is much larger on GOT. You don’t get paid of quality of acting. That is subjective. You might hate Emilia Clarke for reasons outside of acting so why should that influence her pay?

    • Mark says:

      People aren’t paid based on talent, they’re paid based on drawing power. GofT is massive, The Crown , who knows, NETFLIX won’t release viewing figures.

  14. danoregon says:

    Given that some of these cable shows are the equivalent of a movie in terms of production time commitment – getting some of these performers for as little as $3-$5 mil is a bargain, when they ARE the show.

    • Maaz Kalim says:

      What?? You’re seriously of the opinion the a feature film generally takes more time to get ready for release than a 6-episode series?? 😱*

  15. Quentin M. says:

    Why isn’t the Walking Dead cast included? With the highest ratings on TV, TWD earns the most in ad revenue, so has the most money available to pay salaries, and I am curious as to how their cast measures up to the others.

  16. unterwasser says:

    No James Corden? He must be doing ok with the success of Carpool Karaoke.

  17. Jacob says:

    I’m not buying that Nikolaj Coster-Waldau makes 66% more than Kiefer Sutherland per episode. Kiefer was already a household name and the show is built around his character, whereas Nikolaj signed on as an unknown actor in an ensemble piece. The only possible explanation is that HBO is much worse at constructing long-term contracts than ABC is.

    • Quentin M. says:

      It doesn’t say he made that much when he “signed on”, it says he makes that much now that Game of Thrones is a huge hit and cultural phenomenon; his salary has been re-negotiated twice since the show started seven years ago. And Coster-Waldau reaps the enormous benefit of negotiating as a group with the other four lead actors on GoT (Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington, Lena Headey and Emilia Clarke) – HBO pretty much has to pay them what they want, because they cannot kill off all the leads and still have a show.

  18. Tony says:

    No Mark Harmon – omission or joke? I think you need to check the drama listings or Forbes magazine!

    • Spider says:

      Mark Harmon is on the “Drama” list. Look, again! Man, I’m in the wrong business!!!!

      • Maaz Kalim says:

        @ Gerard Kennelly: Which equals=”Thus, deserves to get paid as high as his grade of ‘uninterestingness’ is. {August 29, 2017}”

      • Gerard Kennelly says:

        “Harmon seems to lack charisma, he is not an interesting actor”

        -Roger Ebert
        June 10, 1988

  19. Mark says:

    Emmy Rossum Shameless/Showtime $350,000 per episode, a bargain at twice the price.

  20. cadavra says:

    The charts, especially for drama, are somewhat misleading. Total compensation for a streaming or cable series that only makes 8-10 episodes a year is going to be far lower than for a network show where 22 is the norm. At the end of the year, Kiefer Sutherland’s going home with a lot more dough than anyone in the cast of THRONES.

  21. HBO President of Awesometown says:

    Bob Odenkirk only makes $150k/episode for the best show on TV?!!

  22. is this the actual salary then why there is hoax of emilia clarke getting $2.5m per episode

  23. PMS says:

    wonder what below the line earns!

  24. nick says:

    how much $ do actors from the cw/freeform make? i’m not talking about people like the supernatural dudes but like the other not famous/not belonging to a successful show.

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