Rating the Emmy

Nielsens count more than kudos when it comes to pay

Ray Romano took home more than a gold statuette at the 2002 Emmy Awards.

He has since become the highest-paid actor on TV with a deal worth $40 million for his eighth year on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” But did the Emmy win help seal Romano’s historic deal and boost his career or was it all just gravy?

“The show’s strong and up for renewal,” notes Bill Carter, TV and media critic for the New York Times. “I don’t think the Emmy has any money correlation because it’s rarely tied to ratings.”

When a hit show like Romano’s is up for renewal, the actors have a lot of leverage, Carter says.

He uses “Friends” as an example. Jennifer Aniston took home an Emmy in 2002 for lead actress for a comedy, but the other performers remain Emmy-less. Still, in a medium where ratings are king, the six stars of “Friends” each have a per-episode take of $1 million-plus.

“It has nothing to do with the Emmy, obviously,” Carter adds. “It has to do with the show’s popularity and the fact that the network needed it enough that it was willing to spend an awful lot of money to keep it on the air.”

Before Romano’s windfall, Kelsey Grammer led the pack with TV’s biggest salary, a whopping $75 million-plus two-year contract. That’s the same Kelsey Grammer who took home an Emmy for lead actor for a comedy series in 1998.

But what about two-time Emmy winner James Gandolfini’s highly publicized battle with HBO to return for another season of “The Sopranos?” He already had a pay raise, but “was way below the money that the ‘Fraiser’ people were making, even the supporting performers,” Carter points out. HBO countered that “Fraiser” produces an enormous amount of income from syndication, and the cable network does not have that revenue stream.

If Emmy gold doesn’t mean financial gain, can it at least give performers access to juicier roles? For every Oscar-winning Helen Hunt (with four Emmys for “Mad About You”) there are many more one-time Emmy winners like Julianna Margulies (1995 for “ER”) who have yet to take their careers to the next level.

“The impact for me was really more on a personal level,” says Sela Ward, winner of two Emmys. “It definitely makes you more confident and as an actor more willing to take chances.”

After her 1994 win for lead actress in a drama for “Sisters,” Ward won the lead in “Almost Golden: The Jessica Savitch Story,” for which she was nominated for an Emmy in 1995.

“I think it helped. How could it not?” she asks. “In terms of television, I think you see a difference in how you’re perceived. It provides you more opportunities.”

Time will tell if her 2000 win for lead actress in a drama series for “Once and Again” heralds bigscreen stardom in the 2004 feature “Havana Nights: Dirty Dancing 2.”

Carter says that ultimately it’s not how many Emmys you have on your mantelpiece that gets you the big bucks, “it’s how many rating points you brought.”