Millions of fans tune in to popular TV shows each week, keeping ratings high and solidifying the programs’ places in network lineups for years. And working on high-profile shows often enables cast members to become top-paid TV actors.
Many of your favorite television shows of past and present likely star at least a few of the top 10 highest-paid actors and actresses. Find out who wins the titles of television’s highest-paid actor and highest-paid actress of all-time — and what these TV stars earn.
Click through to find out what televisions stars were up to before they got famous.
1. ‘Modern Family’
Since joining the lineup in 2009, ABC’s “Modern Family” has become one of the most popular TV shows on the air. Co-created by Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, both of whom serve as executive producers, the sitcom’s tenth season will premiere this fall.
Some of the highest-paid TV actors in history — including Sofia Vergara, who earns an incredible amount in endorsements, Julie Bowen, Eric Stonestreet and Ty Burrell — each earn nearly $500,000 per episode, according to a 2017 Variety report. When the series started, former “Married With Children” star Ed O’Neill had a higher profile than the rest of the cast, which led to him being the highest-paid actor on the show, but his salary has not been revealed. Younger TV actors Sarah Hyland, Ariel Winter, Nolan Gould and Rico Rodriguez earn more than $100,000 per episode, according to Deadline.
2. ‘The Big Bang Theory’
Created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, another executive producer duo, “The Big Bang Theory” has been on CBS since 2007. In 2017, it was renewed for seasons 11 and 12.
Its original stars — Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, Kaley Cuoco, Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar — started earning $1 million per episode in 2014, according to People magazine. The top-paid TV actors took a voluntary pay cut to $900,000 per episode to support co-stars Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch.
Bialik and Rauch became full-time cast members in season four, but had only been earning approximately $200,000 per episode. Now two of the highest-paid actresses on television, they will each earn roughly $500,000 per episode, according to Variety.
CBS scored a major hit with “NCIS,” which has been entertaining fans since 2003. Created by Donald P. Bellisario and Don McGill, also executive producers, it will premier its 16th season on September 25. A handful of “NCIS” cast members have appeared on the drama since its first season, including Mark Harmon, David McCallum, Pauley Perrette (who will not be returning for season 16) and Sean Murray.
Unlike many other popular TV shows, “NCIS” has been tight-lipped about cast salaries. Harmon, who doubles as an executive producer for the show, is the highest-paid actor on the series with a total of $20 million in earnings for 2016, according to Forbes. Harmon’s salary per episode is unknown, but in 2013, it was likely more than $700,000, according to Deadline.
4. ‘The Simpsons’
At Comic-Con 2018, it was revealed that “The Simpsons” would premiere its thirtieth season on September 30. The show was created by Matt Groening, who also serves as executive producer, along with James L. Brooks and Sam Simon.
Several original cast members have lent their voice to nearly every single episode, including Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith and Harry Shearer — who plays the fictional millionaire Mr. Burns. Part of the cast since the beginning, Hank Azaria has also been in most episodes.
In 2016, Variety listed Cartwright, Castellaneta, Kavner and Smith’s salaries at $315,000 per episode, ranking them among the highest-paid cast on television. Shearer and Azaria weren’t listed in the Variety article.
Slated for a 2018 debut, the upcoming Netflix dark comedy “Maniac” nabbed A-listers Emma Stone and Jonah Hill. Top-paid actors don’t come cheap — Stone and Hill are both earning approximately $350,000 per episode, according to Variety.
Stone led Forbes’ 2017 list of top-paid actresses, so it’s probably not surprising that she’s also part of a high-paid television cast. She and Hill both snagged executive producer credits, along with Patrick Somerville, Cary Fukunaga, Michael Sugar and Doug Wald.
“Maniac” will debut in September.
It’s been off the air for more than a decade, but the “Friends” cast still ranks among the highest-paid TV stars in history. One of the most popular TV shows of its time, the hit NBC sitcom entertained viewers from 1994 to 2004. It was created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, who shared executive producer duties with Kevin Bright.
In its early days, the show’s ensemble of stars — Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer — earned $22,500 an episode, according to People. As ratings surged, the six stars evolved into top-paid actors, earning $1 million per episode for seasons nine and 10.
In 1997, “Seinfeld” became the highest-paid cast in television history. Still one of the highest-earning actors of all-time, Jerry Seinfeld earned about $1 million per episode, according to Entertainment Weekly. He reportedly turned down an offer of $5 million per episode –$100 million total — for a 10th season, according to Fox News.
Michael Richards, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander reportedly tried and failed to match Seinfeld’s pay, but still ended up with $600,000 per episode — a 300 percent increase from the $150,000 per episode they previously earned.
The hit NBC sitcom ran from 1989 to 1998. It was created by Larry David and Seinfeld, who also served as executive producers in addition to George Shapiro, Howard West and Peter Mehlman. David and Seinfeld also get a cut of the show’s billion dollar payout in royalties.
8. ‘Two and a Half Men’
Before he was famously fired from “Two and a Half Men” in 2011, Charlie Sheen was the highest-paid male actor on television, earning a salary of $1.8 million per episode, according to Reuters. He was replaced by Ashton Kutcher, who led Forbes’ list of top-paid TV actors in 2012. Kutcher was paid roughly $700,000 per episode, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
After getting a raise in 2013, Jon Cryer earned approximately $620,000 per episode. Angus T. Jones made $350,000 per episode in 2012, according to TMZ.
“Two and a Half Men” was created by Chuck Lorre and Lee Aronsohn, who both snagged executive producer credits, along with a slew of other professionals including Kim and Eric Tannenbaum. The CBS show ran from 2003 to 2015.
9. ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’
The CBS sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond” was one of the most popular TV shows during its 1996 to 2005 run. It was created by Philip Rosenthal, who served as executive producer and is now the star of his own Netflix show, “Somebody Feed Phil.” Other executive producers included David Letterman, Rory Rosegarten, Stu Smiley, Lew Schneider and Ray Romano.
In 2003, Romano’s salary surged to about $1.8 million per episode, according to People magazine. Because Romano was making so much, Brad Garrett — who was earning roughly $150,000 per episode, according to the Los Angeles Times — went on strike. He landed a new contract that paid him an estimated $250,000 per episode, plus a cut of syndication fees, according to The Washington Post.
Still one of the highest-paid female actresses, Patricia Heaton earned $450,000 per episode, according to People.
One of the most popular TV shows of its time, “Frasier” graced the NBC lineup from 1993 to 2004. It was created by David Angell, Peter Casey and David Lee — who also served as executive producers — and Kelsey Grammar.
In 2001, Grammar reached a deal to earn $1.6 million per episode, which made him the highest-paid actor in television history at the time, according to People. Costar David Hyde Pierce was paid from $750,000 to $1 million per episode.
Jane Leeves garnered roughly $400,000 per episode, which doesn’t make her the highest-paid TV actress of all-time but earned her a spot near the top of the list. Peri Gilpin, John Mahoney and Moose the dog also starred on the show, but their salaries aren’t publicly available.
Want to know how much an apartment like Frasier’s cost? Click through to find out the real cost of your favorite TV apartments.
11. ‘Game of Thrones’
“Game of Thrones” has been a huge hit for HBO since its 2011 debut. Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who also serve as executive producers, season eight — the show’s final season — will be released in 2019.
The show’s top five stars, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, renegotiated their contracts for seasons seven and eight to earn up between $500,000 and $2.5 million per episode. These figures make them the highest-paid cast in television history.
12. ‘The Walking Dead’
When it premiered in 2010, “The Walking Dead” became a major hit for AMC. Developed by Frank Darabont — who no longer works on the show — “The Walking Dead” is going into season eight this fall, and has starred David Alpert, Gale Anne Hurd, Robert Kirkman, Tom Luse, Greg Nicotero and Scott M. Gimple.
Season nine starts Oct. 7, but despite its success, Andrew Lincoln — who will only appear for a limited number of episodes in the upcoming season — is rumored to have earned only $90,000 per episode, according to a 2016 Forbes report. Us Weekly recently reported that Norman Reedus, who was making $80,000 per episode, negotiated a $20 million paycheck.
13. ‘Stranger Things’
A Netflix original series, “Stranger Things” debuted in 2016 and was an instant success. Created by the Duffer brothers, who are also executive producers, a third season has already been confirmed for 2019.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the salaries of Winona Ryder and David Harbour $350,000 per episode, while younger co-stars like Finn Wolfhard, Caleb McLaughlin, and Noah Schnapp, make close to $250,000 per episode, while Millie Bobby Brown could be making as much as $350,000 each episode. That’s a huge jump from the first two seasons, when the child actors only made $30,000 an episode according to Deadline.
Inspired by the movie “Westworld,” season one of HBO’s sci-fi drama by the same name premiered in 2016. Created by Jonathan and Lisa Joy Nolan, J.J. Abrams serves as executive producer.
The show’s second season premiered in April, and Variety reports that HBO has renewed the show for a third season. “Westworld” has a star-studded cast, including Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, James Marsden, Jeffrey Wright, Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Talulah Riley and Luke Hemsworth. Most of their salaries have been kept under wraps, but Hopkins earns $300,000 per episode, according to a 2017 Variety report.
15. ‘Grey’s Anatomy’
Creator and executive producer Shonda Rimes hit the jackpot with the ABC hit medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” which has been on the air since 2005. A handful of cast members have starred since the beginning, including Ellen Pompeo, Justin Chambers, and James Pickens Jr.
Recent salaries haven’t been revealed for most cast members, but Pompeo’s salary was $575,000 per episode — which, with her seven-figure signing bonus and equity points, makes her the highest paid actress on a primetime drama, according to to The Hollywood Reporter.
16. ‘This Is Us’
An instant smash success, NBC drama “This Is Us” debuted in 2016 and was renewed for seasons two and three in January 2017. Created and executive produced by Dan Fogelman, season two of the hit show has earned 8 Emmy nominations.
The talented cast of “This Is Us” is paid well. According to a 2017 Variety report, Chrissy Metz and Justin Hartley each earn $40,000 per episode and Sterling K. Brown brings in $75,000 per episode. Milo Ventimiglia commands $85,000 per episode, as does Mandy Moore.
17. ‘Breaking Bad’
Created by Vince Gilligan — who served as executive producer — “Breaking Bad” was a major success for AMC. Starring Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris and Betsy Brandt, the drama ran from 2008 to 2013. Salaries of the entire cast weren’t made public, but a TV Guide report claimed Cranston got $225,000 per episode and Paul made $150,000 per episode.
Now on the brink of its fifth season, “Empire” debuted on Fox in 2015. Created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, the drama stars Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard.
Henson and Howard each earn $175,000 per episode of the hit drama, according to a 2016 Variety report. Bryshere Y. Gray, Jussie Smollett and Trai Byers — who play the Lyon kids — make $20,000 per episode, according to the same report.
19. ‘Better Call Saul’
“Breaking Bad” prequel “Better Call Saul” debuted on AMC in 2015. The dark drama was created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, who also serve as executive producers.
Starring Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks, season four premiered this month. Odenkirk commands $150,000 per episode and Banks earns $100,000 per episode, according to a 2017 Variety report.
The seventh season of “Scandal” was its last, but the ABC drama enjoyed a spectacular run. Created and executive produced by Shonda Rimes, the show entertained fans since its 2012 premiere.
“Scandal” starred Kerry Washington, Katie Lowes, Bellamy Young, Tom Verica and Tony Goldwyn. Most of the cast’s salaries haven’t been publicly revealed, but Washington’s pay is at $250,000 per episode, according to a 2017 Variety report.
21. ‘The Blacklist’
“The Blacklist” has been renewed for a sixth season according to Variety. The show premiered on NBC in 2013. Created and executive produced by Jon Bokenkamp, the drama stars James Spader, Megan Boone, Diego Klattenhoff and Harry Lennix.
Only Spader’s salary has been made public. In addition to starring in the show, he serves as an executive producer and earns $300,000 per episode, according to a 2017 Variety report.
22. ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’
Adopted from the Margaret Atwood novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a Hulu original series that premiered in 2017. Created and executive produced by Bruce Miller — with Atwood serving as a supervising producer — the series has been renewed for a third season, according to Harpers Bazaar.
Elisabeth Moss, Yvonne Strahovski, Max Minghella and Amanda Brugel star in the series. Moss earns $200,000 per episode, according to a 2017 Variety report. None of the other cast members’ salaries has been revealed.
23. ‘How to Get Away With Murder’
Starring Viola Davis, Billy Brown, Alfred Enoch and Matt McGorry, “How to Get Away With Murder” has graced the ABC lineup since 2014. Peter Nowalk created the show and serves as executive producer with Shonda Rimes.
Davis earns $250,000 per episode for her work on the drama, which launches its fifth season in September, according to a 2016 Variety report. Salaries for the other cast members have been kept under wraps.
Read More: Who Has the Richest Cast?
24. ‘The Mentalist’
A CBS drama that premiered in 2008, “The Mentalist” ran for seven seasons until it wrapped in 2015. Created and executive produced by Bruno Heller, the series starred Simon Baker, Robin Tunney, Tim Kang, Amanda Righetti and Owain Yeoman.
In 2011, Baker — who also served as a producer — had a deal worth more than $30 million, according to Deadline. He was reportedly earning $350,000 per episode in season four, a number that was expected to rise each season. Tunney was expected to earn nearly $200,000 per episode by the end of the series, and Righetti, Kang and Yeoman were each slated to bring in $150,000 per episode in season seven.
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Priscilla Aguilera contributed to the reporting of this story.
About the Author
Laura is a writer with nearly 10 years of experience in marketing and personal finance. She is a Los Angeles-based writer specializing in personal finance, higher education, legal matters and marketing. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from the University of Pittsburgh and an MBA from Robert Morris University.