The Highest Paid Television Stars In The United States

(Last Updated On: September 18, 2014)


Even if it is under low-class jealousy, biblical coveting, or sophomoric whining about life being unfair, almost everyone is all together amazed and angry about salaries famous people earn. From pop stars with questionable talent to professional athletes to gifted singers and actors, their share of the pie just seems too much compared to tiny slices most people live on.

TV Guide magazine just released their annual list of biggest money makers of the not-so-small-anymore screen. From comedy to horror, drama and fantasy, every category has some huge wage earners. Drama and comedy actors get paid per episode, while comedy actors getting way more per show than their dramatic counterparts. Late night TV hosts, news anchors and daytime syndication stars all get paid by the year, and reality show stars get paid after every season.

You may not ever agree on the equality of TV star paychecks but it’s hard not to admire their lawyers or agents or whoever takes care of these deals, which mostly include ongoing income from syndication and/or profit-sharing. We should keep in mind that while no one’s job is really secure, nothing is more momentarily that a role that may be your first – and last – opportunity to have taken care of your family for a lifetime.

Comedic Salaries

Until very recently, Aston Kutcher was the highest paid comedy actor on TV, bringing in $750,000 per episode for Two and a Half Men. Jim Parsons, Johhny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco, The Big Bang Theory lead actors, surpassed Kutcher each are earning $1 million per episode for the upcoming season. Jon Cryer, Kutcher’s co-star, makes $650K per show. Comedic salaries go down toform $650,000 to $300,000 per episode for The Simpson actors Nancy Cartwright, Julie Kavner, Dan Castellaneta and Yeardley Smith. Tim Allen earn $250,000 for each episode of Last Man Standing. This is also the same for Patricia Heaton for The Middle and Amy Poehler for Parks and Recreation. After that, salaries go down all the way to the low figures. This includes a measly $75,000 for the other two females on The Big Bang Theory; $100,000 is made by the two other guys. The show did not win the Emmy for Best Comedy last night – Modern Family won again – but Parsons managed to get the Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Emmy again, rather justifying his gigantic paycheck. Ty Burell, who earns a low $190,000 per episode of Modern Family last night, was honored as the Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy.


Drama’s Big Earners

Looking at how low dramatic actors salary is, the old adage that comedy is twice as hard as drama to pull of must be true. On the top of the list on Mark Harmon who earns $525,000 per episode of NCIS. Not far behind is Kevin Spacey, getting $500,000 per show on Netflix’s breakout hit House of Cards. Mariska Hargitay is the highest paid female actor on TV, bringing in $400,000 per episode of Law & Order: SVU, with Ellen Pompeo not far behind for wit5h $350,000 for her starring role on Grey’s Anatomy. Patrick Dempsey, her co-star, makes the same amount, so does Simon Baker for his lead role on The Mentalist. Jon Hamm brings in $275,000 for his hard drinking, hard smoking role on Mad Men. $25,000 less than Hamm’s Don Draper is earned by international crime fighters. David Boreanaz (Bones), Claire Danes (Homeland), Ted Danson (CSI), Michael Weatherley (NCIS) and Emily Deschanel (Bones) all earn $250,000 per episode.


Daytime Salaries

Although it looks like daytime shows would not have draw the nighttime fare, the players’ yearly pay rivals that of lots of movie stars and sometimes includes a cut of the show’s profits. Judy Sheindlin is at the top of daytime show earning and has been for many years. As the presiding force on Judge Judy, she is paid $47 million annually. Ellen DeGeneres earns between $16 million to $20 million for her namesake talk show and not far behind is Kelly Ripa. Kelly earns between $14 million and $20 million for co-hosting Live with Kelly and Michael. Pat Sajak’s wide smile is probably believable taking in the fact that he earns $12 million a year for hosting Wheel of Fortune and his sidekick Vanna White earns a gigantic $8 million per year for electronic letter flipping. Making between $9 million and $10 million is Alex Trebek, for being the host Jeorpardy, his brainiac favourite.


Hard News, Big Money

today show
With a lot of networks fighting to be the go-to-source for national and international news, the top competitors from a wide range of political standpoint earn an impressive yearly salary for keeping viewers well up to date. Matt Lauer from Today leads the group with an annual salary of between $22 million and $25 million. The second highest paid is Bill O’Reilly, who gets paid $18 million for his show, The O’Reilly Factor. The highest paid female in this news category is Robin Roberts, making $14 million annual on Good Morning America. Right on Robert’s tail is Brian Williams, bringing in an annual of $13 million for anchoring NBC Nightly News. Anderson Cooper’s all-encompassing Anderson Cooper 360 giving him $11 million a year. Shepard Smith of Shepard Smith Reporting is the last newsperson to have a two-digit salary, earning $10 million a year. After that, the remaining big names like Rachel Maddow, Katy Couric, Scott Pelley and Bret Baier earn in the single digit millions and CNN’sBill Weir and Ronan Farrow of Ronan Farrow Daily earn each less than a million a year.


Late Night Wages

Just a couple of decades ago, nighthawks and insomniacs had only two late night show hosts to choose from on television and as the early hours of the morning dawned, infomercials and often insidious local programming were the only options. But as late night viewing got more popular, the more joined the arena and the salaries shot up. David Letterman, who is almost at the end of his final season as the host of The Late Show, is earning $20 million this year. Talk show host Conan O’Brien earns just a little more than half of that, which is $14 million per year, followed at $11 million earned by Jimmy Fallon, Chelsea Handler and Jimmy Kimmel each earning $10 million, and Andy Cohen and John Oliver make $2 million a year for hosting their late night shows.