The World is Askew, and ‘Big Bang Theory’ Actors Still Make the Most Money in TV Comedy


Variety has released its list of TV actors’ estimated salaries (based on “extensive research”), and some of these exceedingly high numbers seem far more earned than others. Obviously, few of them seem truly earned, insomuch as any of these salary sums are pretty absurd. But within the inflated scale of Hollywood salaries, one can gauge who among these across-the-board disproportionate earnings makes an amount that’s disproportionate even to all of the other disproportionate amounts. Variety has separated the lists into comedy and drama actors.

The first grouping on the comedy actors list doesn’t come as a surprise, as it’s been that way for a while: The stars of the Big Bang Theory make the most money, with Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, and Johnny Galecki earning approximately $1 million per every episode of their interminable series. It’s also very much worth noting that apart from seeming merely artistically askew, the tops of both the comedy and drama lists are very white.

Following the anomalously high salaries of the Big Bang Theory actors, there’s a major drop in pay — Dwayne Johnson’s next, earning $400,000 for HBO’s Ballers. After that are a gaggle of actors in upcoming Netflix series: Drew Barrymore for Santa Clarita Diet (which, per Variety, will follow “a married couple who are real estate agents leading vaguely discontented lives in the L.A. suburb of Santa Clarita, until Sheila goes through a dramatic change sending both their lives down a road of death and destruction — but in a good way”), with $350,000; and Emma Stone and Jonah Hill for the Cary Fukunaga-directed series Maniac, an adaptation of a Norwegian series about the fantasies of a man in a mental institution — also with $350,000 per episode each.

Next on the list are a series of Simpsons actors, followed by critical favorites Jeffrey Tambor for Transparent ($275,000) and Julia Louis Dreyfus for Veep ($250,000); yes, that’s right, Julia Louis Dreyfus makes a quarter of what the Big Bang Theory actors make. Other notable actors — who’ve received high praise for their parts — come in at the bottom of the list (still, of the top-paid actors), with Gina Rodriguez earning $60,000 per episode of Jane the Virgin, Tracee Ellis Ross earning $80,000 for Black-ish, and the rest of Transparent‘s Pfefferman family earning $100,000 per episode.

MEANWHILE. In the world of drama, the salaries start dramatically lower (while still being dramatically high) — with Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel each earning $750,000 for their Netflix Gilmore Girls revival. Next comes Mark Harmon for NCIS ($525,000) and Kevin Spacey for House of Cards ($500,000), and then a pack of GoT actors likewise making $500,000 per episode. Claire Danes isn’t doing so badly on Homeland ($450,000), and the upcoming HBO series Big Little Lies (adapted from the novel of the same name) is paying Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon quite well. Perhaps the biggest head-scratcher is the amount the Empire cast gets paid — $175,000 per episode for both Taraji P. Henson and Terence Howard, and $20,000 per episode for the Lyon kids.

It’s refreshing to see so much immense talent on these lists. But it’s also dishearteningly unsurprising that the way to earn the highest salary in Hollywood television is to be a white person on a corny television series about people who find themselves witty and speak with annoying speed.