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The TV Column

Big Bang stars' pay explodes to $1 million per show

By Michael Storey

This article was published August 14, 2014 at 2:09 a.m.


The Big Bang Theory stars (from left) Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons are now making a cool $1 million per episode, up from $325,000.

Pop quiz: You're a TV actor. When is it a good time and not a good time to renegotiate your contract for bigger bucks?

Answer: Not when your character is in a life-threatening cliffhanger and could die before the next season premieres.

And yes when your sitcom is No. 1, making the network a ton of money and already renewed for the next three years.

Holding out is what the three main actors on CBS' The Big Bang Theory did recently and it paid off handsomely for them. The show is TV's top comedy by far, averaging 17.5 million viewers each week, according to Nielsen.

Not only that, but it's a huge draw as TV's top syndicated series. An average of 9 million viewers watch repeat episodes on TBS.

That's when you can renegotiate your contract with relative impunity.

Shooting on the forthcoming Season 8 was delayed as Jim Parsons (Sheldon Cooper), Johnny Galecki (Leonard Hofstadter) and Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting (Penny) negotiated jointly for hefty pay raises. The network blinked and industry insiders report each signed for lucrative three-year contracts of about $1 million per episode.

Let's just let that sink in a moment.

With Big Bang's 24 episodes per season, that equals $24 million each for one season's effort -- about six or seven months of indoor work with no heavy lifting or athletic ability required.

Breaking it down: With each episode only lasting about 22 minutes (without commercials), that means Parsons, Galecki and Cuoco-Sweeting are pulling down about $45,455 per minute.

And there aren't even that many lines to learn because each shares screen time with the other two plus the four main supporting actors, Simon Helberg (Howard Wolowitz), Kunal Nayyar (Rajesh Koothrappali), Mayim Bialik (Amy Farrah Fowler) and Melissa Rauch (Bernadette Rostenkowski).

The supporting actors, by the way, all signed their contracts earlier at much lower salaries. Still, it has been reported that Helberg and Nayyar are in the $500,000 range. If you pinch pennies, you could live comfortably in Los Angeles on only $12 million a year.

The 28-year-old Cuoco-Sweeting added her husband's last name to her credits in January. She and pro tennis player Ryan Sweeting were married Dec. 31.

Maybe now that Cuoco-Sweeting is rolling in dough, she'll buy Penny a surname. Poor Penny is the only character on The Big Bang Theory without a last name.

And the trio should be set for life since CBS has already renewed The Big Bang Theory through the 2016-17 season. That's a guaranteed $72 million each over the next three years.

The new salaries take the Big Bang Big 3 into exclusive company. The six cast members of Friends all made $1 million per episode starting in 2002. (Friends ended in 2004).

Jerry Seinfeld was paid $1 million per episode the final season of his eponymous nine-year sitcom and turned down $5 million per episode for one more season. Tim Allen (Home Improvement) and Mad About You's Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt all made more than $1 million their final seasons.

Kelsey Grammer still holds the per episode record at $1.3 million for the final two seasons of Frasier (2002-2004).

Fans take note: Because CBS Thursday Night Football debuts Sept. 11 , The Big Bang Theory will start off with back-to-back episodes at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 -- a Monday instead of its usual Thursday slot. The comedy will return to its 7 p.m. Thursday slot on Oct. 30.

TV vs. Reality. Making $1 million per episode is rare. Last year, Time magazine ranked the top salaries per episode for the 2013-14 season. Note how huge a leap the Big Bang folks took between seasons.

  1. Ashton Kutcher, Two and a Half Men, $750,000.

  2. Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men, $600,000.

  3. Mark Harmon, NCIS, $525,000.

  4. Mariska Hargitay, Law and Order: SVU, $500,000.

  5. Sandra Oh, Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey, Grey's Anatomy, $350,000.

  6. Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco, The Big Bang Theory, $325,000.

  7. Simon Baker, The Mentalist; Angus T. Jones, Two and a Half Men, $300,000.

  8. Claire Danes, Homeland; Michael Weatherly, NCIS; John Hamm, Mad Men, $250,000.

  9. Tim Allen, Last Man Standing; David Boreanaz, Bones; Ted Danson, CSI; Jason Segel, How I Met Your Mother, $225,000.

  10. Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother, $210,000.

Just for fun, compared those actor salaries with the paychecks their characters would be making in real life. Here are three examples.

Harmon's salary playing Leroy Jethro Gibbs comes out to about $12.6 million per year. The average salary of a real NCIS agent is $103,000 per year.

Danes makes about $3 million a year as CIA operative Carrie Mathison. Actual CIA agents earn from $52,976 to $81,204 per year.

Segel's annual salary playing Judge Marshall Eriksen is about $5.5 million. The average salary of a New York City judge is roughly $175,082.

The TV Column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Email:

Weekend on 08/14/2014

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