33 Popular TV Shows With the Highest-Paid Casts
It’s no secret that starring on a television show can mean big money, but you might not realize how much your favorite celebrities are actually earning. Some have the star power to command big paychecks from the start, while others score massive raises as their show rises in popularity.
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From “Modern Family” to “Friends,” casts of popular TV shows have been cashing in for decades. Here’s a look at some of the highest-paid actors and actresses in television.
Last updated: Sept. 10, 2021
ABC’s “Modern Family” was one of the most popular TV shows on the air. Co-created by Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd — both served as executive producers — the sitcom ended in 2020 after an impressive 11-season run.
Some of the highest-paid TV actors in history, Sofia Vergara, Ed O’Neill, Julie Bowen, Eric Stonestreet, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ty Burrell each earned $500,000 per episode, according to a 2019 Variety report.
Younger TV actors Sarah Hyland, Ariel Winter, Nolan Gould and Rico Rodriguez earned more than $100,000 per episode, according to Deadline.
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'The Big Bang Theory'
Created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady — who also served as executive producers — “The Big Bang Theory” debuted on CBS in 2007. After 12 seasons, the wildly successful sitcom ended in 2019.
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 for the final two seasons to support co-stars Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch, according to Variety.
Bialik and Rauch became full-time cast members in season four but had only been earning approximately $200,000 per episode. The extra room in the budget from the long-time stars allowed them to earn $500,000 per episode for the show’s final two seasons, according to Variety.
In 2018, Forbes determined that Parsons was the No. 1 top-paid TV actor that year, while Galecki came in second. Helberg and Nayaar tied for third place.
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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 — the show was green-lit for its 18th season, set to premiere in November.
A handful of “NCIS” cast members have appeared on the drama since its first season, including Mark Harmon, David McCallum and Sean Murray. Unlike many other popular TV shows, “NCIS” has been tight-lipped about cast salaries.
However, a 2017 Variety report revealed Harmon — who is also an executive producer of "NCIS: New Orleans" and has a net worth of $100 million — earned an estimated $525,000 per episode. His per-episode paycheck is likely larger now, as The Hollywood Reporter revealed he received a salary increase for the show’s 16th season in 2018. Forbes named him the fifth-highest-paid TV actor in 2018.
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Already the longest-running primetime scripted show in television history, in 2019, Fox renewed “The Simpsons” for Seasons 31 and 32. 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, Harry Shearer and Hank Azaria.
In 2016, Variety listed Cartwright, Castellaneta, Kavner and Smith’s salaries at $315,000 per episode. Shearer was not mentioned in the Variety article, nor was Azaria, though Celebrity Net Worth suggests they are paid similarly at $300,000 an episode, with handsome net worths of $85 million and $80 million, respectively.
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, Courteney 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. A "Friends" reunion special has long been in the works but has been pushed back due to the pandemic — it's now set to air in March 2021.
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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% 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.
'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.
'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, a travel documentary series called "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.
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 — along with 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. Co-star David Hyde Pierce was paid from $750,000 to $1 million per episode and Jane Leeves garnered roughly $400,000 per episode.
Peri Gilpin, John Mahoney and Moose the dog also starred on the show, but their salaries aren’t publicly available.
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'Game of Thrones'
After an eight-season run, “Game of Thrones” came to an end in 2019. Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss — who also served as executive producers — the wildly successful HBO series reportedly had a budget of $15 million each for its final episodes, according to Variety.
The show’s top five stars, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, each reportedly earned approximately $1.2 million per episode for its eighth and final season, according to Variety.
'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 its 11th season.
Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride have been part of the cast since the show’s 2010 debut. Salary information for McBride hasn’t been made public, but Reedus reportedly earns $1 million per episode, according to a 2019 Variety report. Meanwhile, co-star Andrew Lincoln was deemed the 10th-highest-paid TV actor in 2018 by Forbes — the only "Walking Dead" star to grace the list.
A Netflix original series, “Stranger Things” debuted in 2016 and was an instant success. Created by the Duffer brothers, who are also executive producers, the series was renewed for its fourth season in 2019.
According to a 2019 Hollywood Reporter piece, Winona Ryder, David Harbour and Millie Bobby Brown each earn $350,000 per episode, while co-stars Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Gaten Matarazzo, Noah Schnapp and Finn Wolfhard earn $250,000 per episode. Sadie Sink earns $150,000 per episode.
Inspired by the movie “Westworld,” the first season 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 for the series, which is going into its fourth season.
Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright and Ed Harris have starred in the series since its debut. Ahead of the show’s third season, the foursome reportedly received a salary increase to $250,000 per episode each, according to Variety.
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Creator and executive producer Shonda Rhimes 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 been around since the beginning, including Ellen Pompeo, Chandra Wilson and James Pickens Jr.
The series has been renewed for season 17, and Rhimes has said it will continue as long as Pompeo wants to do the show, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Recent salaries for cast members haven’t been revealed. However, Pompeo signed a two-year contract extension in 2018 — covering seasons 15 and 16 — which paid her $575,000 per episode and promoted her to a producer on the show, according to Variety. Season 17 has been greenlit and will deal with the coronavirus pandemic as a theme.
'This Is Us'
The NBC drama “This Is Us” debuted in 2016, and was an instant smash success. Created and produced by Dan Fogelman, it has been renewed through at least season six.
The talented cast of “This Is Us” is paid well. According to a 2019 Variety report, Sterling K. Brown, Justin Hartley, Chrissy Metz, Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia each earn $250,000 per episode.
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.
'Better Call Saul'
“Breaking Bad” prequel “Better Call Saul” debuted on AMC in 2015. Created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould — who also serve as executive producers — the dark drama will end after its sixth season, which is expected to run in 2021.
Several cast members have appeared in every episode, including Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Rhea Seehorn, Patrick Fabian and Michael Mando. Salary information for most of the cast is not available, but 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 was at $250,000 per episode, according to a 2017 Variety report.
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“The Blacklist” premiered on NBC in 2013 and has been renewed for its eighth season, according to Variety. 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.
'The Handmaid’s Tale'
Adapted from Margaret Atwood's acclaimed novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a Hulu original series that premiered in 2017. Created and executive produced by Bruce Miller, the series has been renewed for a fourth season, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Elisabeth Moss, Yvonne Strahovski, Max Minghella, Madeline Brewer and Amanda Brugel star in the series. Moss earns $1 million per episode, according to a 2018 Variety report. None of the other cast members’ salaries have been revealed.
'How to Get Away With Murder'
Starring Viola Davis, Billy Brown, Alfred Enoch and Matt McGorry, “How to Get Away With Murder” graced the ABC lineup for six seasons, running from 2014 to 2020. Peter Nowalk created the show and served as executive producer with Shonda Rimes.
Davis earned $250,000 per episode for her work on the drama, according to a 2016 Variety report. Salaries for the other cast members have been kept under wraps.
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.
'The Morning Show'
Created by Jay Carson and Kerry Ehrin, “The Morning Show” premiered on Apple in 2019. Starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carrell, the series will return for a second season.
A-listers Aniston and Witherspoon are both listed as executive producers, and each earns more than $2 million per episode, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Carrell was earning $750,000 per episode, according to Variety, but it’s uncertain if he’ll be back for the show’s second season.
'Big Little Lies'
When “Big Little Lies” debuted on HBO in 2017, it was meant to be a limited series. Created by David E. Kelly and based on the book by Liane Moriarty — who also scored an executive producer credit — the series was such a hit that a second season was created.
The seriously starry cast included Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Zoe Kravitz, Shailene Woodley, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep. A third season has been rumored, but HBO has yet to announce plans to continue the series.
Salaries for all cast members were not revealed, but Witherspoon and Kidman — also executive producers — earned more than $1 million per episode for season two, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Kravitz is rumored to have earned $3 million for the second season and Woodley is said to have received a steep pay raise from her $1.7 million earnings for season one.
Created by Micah Bloomberg and Eli Horowitz, the second season of Amazon’s “Homecoming” debuted in May 2020. The cast of the second season was notably different, as Janelle Monae served as the leading lady instead of Julia Roberts, and Bobby Cannavale appeared in just one episode.
Viewers didn’t see her on screen, but Roberts continued to serve as an executive producer for the show’s second season, as she did during its first. Her salary for the second season is unknown, but she earned $650,000 per episode for her work on the first season, according to Variety. Salary information for other cast members has not been revealed.
After its fifth season, HBO’s “Ballers” came to an end in 2019. Created by Stephen Levinson, several cast members starred in all five seasons, including Dwayne Johnson, John David Washington, Donovan W. Carter and Troy Garity.
Johnson served as an executive producer for several episodes, as did Mark Wahlberg. Salaries for most cast members have not been revealed, but Johnson earned $650,000 per episode, according to a 2017 Variety report.
'Mad About You'
Created by Paul Reiser and Danny Jacobson, “Mad About You” ran seven seasons, from 1992 to 1999. A smash success, the sitcom originally aired on NBC, but Spectrum revived it in 2019 for a 12-episode limited series.
The original series starred Helen Hunt and Reiser, who resumed their roles for the revival. In 1998, the duo landed a deal that paid them each $1 million per episode, according to Variety. While still very generously paid, they earned much less for the reboot that ran on Spectrum in 2019, reeling in $350,000 per episode.
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A big hit for the WB, “Gilmore Girls” ran seven seasons, from 2000 to 2007. Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, the series starred Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel.
In 2016, Netflix revived it into the four-episode miniseries “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.” Graham and Bledel returned to reprise their respective roles and were each paid $750,000 per episode, according to Variety.
'Little Fires Everywhere'
In 2020, Celeste Ng’s book “Little Fires Everywhere” was adapted into an eight-episode Hulu miniseries. Created by Liz Tigelaar, Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington starred in the drama.
Witherspoon and Washington — who, alongside Ng, scored executive producer credits — each earned an impressive $1.1 million per episode, according to Variety.
Created by Jesse Armstrong, “Succession” has been a huge hit for HBO since its 2018 debut. The series was renewed for its third season in 2019.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the announcement of a third season meant serious pay raises for the cast. Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin, Alan Ruck, Matthew Macfadyen and Nicholas Braun are all earning the same salary, which is an estimated $300,000 to $350,000 per episode. Brian Cox is reportedly commanding an even larger per-episode rate. Surely, the drama's recent sweep at the Emmys bodes well for a future pay bump.
A hit for the Paramount Network, “Yellowstone” was renewed for a fourth season in 2020. Created by John Linson and Taylor Sheridan, the drama debuted in 2018.
The cast includes A-lister Kevin Costner — also an executive producer — who brings in $500,000 per episode, according to a 2019 Variety report. His co-stars Cole Hauser and Kelly Reilly each earn $200,000 per episode for their respective roles.
'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel'
Another hit show created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” debuted on Amazon in 2017. The comedy series was renewed for its fourth season in 2019.
Rachel Brosnahan, Alex Borstein, Michael Zegen, Marin Hinkle and Tony Shalhoub have each appeared in every episode since the show’s premiere. Salary information for all cast members was not available, but Brosnahan reportedly earns $300,000 per episode, while Borstein and Shalhoub each command $250,000 per episode, according to a 2019 Variety report.
The Netflix crime drama "Ozark" is a critical hit, and not a bad payday for its famous faces. Co-stars Jason Bateman and Laura Linney make $300,000 per episode, according to a 2017 Variety report. Mum's the word on the remainder of the cast, including the salary of co-star Julia Garner, who won an Emmy in 2020 for her portrayal of Ruth Langmore on the show.
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Priscilla Aguilera, Nicole Spector and Mark Shrayber contributed to the reporting for this article.
This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: 33 Popular TV Shows With the Highest-Paid Casts