So you want to know which actresses on television make the most money? You want to know where your favorites sit on the rankings? Maybe you’ve come to see which stars can afford to give more to charity. Maybe you just want to make yourself feel bad, reveling in your own indigent misery. All of these are perfectly acceptable reasons for being here. We will warn you up front though.
There’s a lot of money being talked about here, a list that you’re not being included on. This list can expose you to a cold dose of reality. There are people that act on television for a living who make exorbitant salaries. Many of the shows that these actresses star in aren’t even any good. But that makes no difference. It’s about how many people watch. Not how good your performance is. Ever since the cast of Friends banded together and got that Friends money, TV sitcoms and procedural crime shows have been dishing out coin like it’s going out of style.
Though the ratings and audiences of many of the shows on this list drop off with time, it’s longevity that pays for the most part. You’ll notice that almost every one of the stars on this list are cast members of a show that has been around for a long time, probably too long if you ask most people. But, it doesn’t really matter how good a show is after about five seasons, does it? By that point, you’ve invested too many hours into a television world. You must trek on and see the ending. Most of us will literally watch anything once we’ve become that involved. And millions of us do, night after night. We’re probably laughing at jokes that aren’t even funny and being shocked at plotlines that have been redone four different times, but we don’t care. Just put something familiar in front us and we’ll watch it. Take our time and our money, actresses. You’ve kind of earned it. Here are the highest paid actresses on TV in 2016.
15. Zooey Deschanel – New Girl – $7 million
Now in its sixth season, Fox’s New Girl, starring Zooey Deschanel, has surprised a lot of people by sticking around as long as it has. Not that it’s particularly bad but because of its network’s history with similar comedies. Deschanel’s fame is almost all from her success in film, but her performance in New Girl, beginning in 2011, has proven that she’s very capable of leading a TV show. While the show’s ratings and audiences have dropped significantly since the first season (more than 50%), it’s still bringing in close to 4 million viewers per night, which is substantial enough to justify paying Deschanel the big bucks. Thanks in part to her familiar and marketable name, Deschanel made $7 million this past year.
14. Emily Deschanel – Bones – $7.5 million
Since 2005, Emily Deschanel, Zooey’s older sister, has been the star of Fox’s Bones. Going into its 12th and final season, Deschanel has been able to leverage the show’s massive popularity into a big payday for herself. Since the show began, it’s managed to hold onto the vast majority of its audience, which is a testament to everyone involved, including Deschanel as the leading lady. You’ve got to wonder at what point audiences start getting sick of these types of shows, but who are we to suggest they’ll ever get old? Bones and other procedural dramas like it have proven to be a goldmine for studios and have captivated millions of viewers around the world. Usually, if you like one of these shows, you like many of these shows, so Deschanel’s success bodes well for other actors following in her footsteps. This past year, Deschanel brought $7.5 million.
13. Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Veep – $7.5 million
Now going into her sixth season on Veep, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has managed to strike gold once again on TV. Rather than being part of an ensemble, the ex-Seinfeld star has proved beyond a doubt that she has what it takes to lead a show, winning four straight primetime Emmy Awards and carrying the show to amazing ratings over its run. Now, her whopping $7.5 million per year payout isn’t only from Veep. She’s also got a cushy endorsement deal setup with Old Navy, which helps her cause. The fact that she’s such a familiar face and has managed to keep a lot of her fans throughout the years has allowed the former Elaine Benes to stay rich throughout the years. We’re glad to see her do so well.
12. Patricia Heaton – The Middle – $8 million
For over nine years, Patricia Heaton was best known for her role in Everybody Loves Raymond, but since 2009, Heaton’s new life has been on the ABC sitcom The Middle. Heaton has long been thought of as one of the funniest women on TV and she’s been able to land on insanely successful shows in her career. Her $8 million per year earnings also takes into consideration her cooking show called Patricia Heaton Parties, which premiered in 2015. This woman is a seven-time Emmy award nominee and she’s got a star on the Walk of Fame to boot. She’s earned her big payout.
11. Pauley Perrette – NCIS – $9.5 million
If you haven’t flicked on NCIS over the last 14 seasons, you might be surprised to see Pauley Perrette’s name on this list, but you really shouldn’t be. Not only is NCIS one of the most popular shows on TV, appearing in the top five most watched TV shows every year since 2009, but Perrette is also considered the most likable character on primetime television, according to her Q score. NCIS brings in an astounding 20 million viewers per episode, a truly mind-blowing number, and Perrette has been a mainstay throughout the show’s incredible run. It’s no wonder then that she was able to convince the studio to pay her $9.5 million per year.
10. Julie Bowen – Modern Family – $10 million
If you’re thinking that Julie Bowen is only famous for once dating David Spade, get with the times. Way back when, Bowen was an up-and-comer, she was a minor cast member in Happy Gilmore, but since 2009, the actress has been best known as Claire Dunphy in Modern Family. Just now beginning its ninth season, Modern Family has been one of the most popular comedies on television, bringing in about 10 million viewers per episode, and Bowen is one of the major draws. She’s also put together a lucrative deal with Neutrogena which has helped her grow her annual earnings to $10 million this past year. Bowen has also been nominated for six Emmy Awards, won twice and she has a pretty face, so she’s more than just a massive bank account.
9. Julianna Margulies – The Good Wife – $10.5 million
Julianna Margulies, star of the hit show The Good Wife, which just concluded its seventh and final season this year, comes in at number nine on the highest paid TV actresses list, earning a crazy $10.5 million this past year. Margulies, who was on ER for quite a while, has also won a total of eight Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) Awards, making her the winningest woman in SAG’s history. Going into The Good Wife‘s final season, Margulies appeared to have gotten a little goodbye-and-thanks-for-the-good-times money because that payout is enormous. Without anything lined up for the near future, don’t expect to see Margulies on any screen any time soon.
8. Priyanka Chopra – Quantico – $11 million
It still amazes people that some of the highest paid actors in the world are Bollywood stars. The biggest name of all the women from that scene is Priyanka Chopra, best known stateside for her show Quantico. She’s been in several big Bollywood films that has helped her carve out a name for herself and increase her pay, and next year, she’ll be in the Baywatch film, which will undoubtedly gain her a few more American fans. Earning $11 million over the past year has brought Chopra into the conversation of richest actors for the first time in her career. Now in its second season, Quantico looks to build on the great reception it got in its debut, bringing in about 8 million viewers an episode.
7. Stana Katic – Castle – $12 million
After seven successful seasons, Stana Katic worked the popularity of the TV show Castle into a big payout going into the show’s eighth season. Earning about $12 million is a big increase from what Katic was bringing in for the majority of the show’s run. For seven seasons, Castle averaged about 10 million viewers an episode, but that was cut down by about 40% in the eighth season. There were rumors that the show was going to get an additional season, but the drop in ratings didn’t help encourage the showrunners to keep it going. While Katic has a couple of smaller film roles in production as we speak, she doesn’t have much on the slate long run, so don’t expect her to appear on this list in 2017.
6. Kerry Washington – Scandal – $13.5 million
It’s not shocking to see Kerry Washington on this list because her popularity is well documented. What is surprising is Washington’s massive popularity. Where did it come from? Sure, people love Scandal, we’re not doubting that, but the show’s not that big of a sensation. It brings in about 10 million viewers an episode and it’s going into its sixth season. Washington has been acting for a while and she’s wonderful. All that considered, those aren’t huge viewership numbers. The show isn’t a time-honored tradition. Washington certainly hasn’t had an overly brilliant film career either. It’s been good, just not amazing. Yet everyone seems to know and love her, most just probably don’t know why they know her. This is not meant to be a slight either. It’s very impressive what she’s done with her time in the spotlight. On top of her Scandal money, Washington also has a few big time endorsement deals with Apple, Neutrogena and Movado.
5. Mariska Hartigay – Law & Order SVU – $14.5 Million
Over six million fans have been watching Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU) for 18 seasons. Eight. Teen. Seasons. For many people, they’ve invested more of their time into watching this procedural drama than they have their own children. That’s really commendable though. To keep your interest in a show that has run over 390 episodes is extreme. You probably still watch because you can solve the cases instantly, considering the formula has remained the exact same for every episode. Wouldn’t these characters lose their jobs in real life for constantly getting the case wrong on the first attempt? Don’t they ever learn from their past mistakes. Regardless, we all know Mariska Hartigay, even if we don’t watch the show. She’s been around for ages, and because of that, she makes $14.5 million per season. Dun Dun.
4. Ellen Pompeo – Grey’s Anatomy – $14.5 million
You know Ellen Pompeo from Grey’s Anatomy whether you watch the show or not. It’s now in its 13th season, so you’d have to be living under a rock not to have noticed it or its stars at some point. Still bringing in about 9 million viewers an episode, the following for this medical drama is dedicated and easy to please; no, just kidding about that last part. Despite Pompeo’s uncanny ability to avoid being nominated for any serious awards, she’s managed to wrangle in a crazy $14.5 million pay per year. Ask her fans and they’d say she deserves it. She’s a national treasure in their eyes. She deserves that kind of money considering the amount of wildly complicated and rare medical cases that come through those hospital doors every day. If we’ve learned anything from TV, the cure is never what you think at first, unless you quickly moved off of that initial thought, then it will turn out to be correct in the end. Hmm. Maybe being a doctor isn’t that hard after all.
3. Mindy Kaling – The Mindy Project – $15 million
Money from the book she’s writing with The Office co-star and co-writer, BJ Novak, and money from her hilarious show The Mindy Project, combines to make Mindy Kaling a very rich woman. Bringing in $15 million this past year is something that Kaling has worked hard to get, rising to fame while playing Kelly on The Office. During the Gracie Awards, Kaling said to the crowd, “For years and years, the role of the lead actress on a sitcom was to do two things: look amazing and to make one-third of what my male co-star makes. So I want to be clear, I do always look amazing on the show, and no man on my show makes more money than me.” This is a strong statement to make, and it’s incredibly true. If any man did make more than Kaling, The Mindy Project would never be able to sustain itself considering it’s only bringing in about 3 million viewers an episode.
2. Kaley Cuoco – The Big Bang Theory – $24.5 million
You won’t be surprised to see Kaley Cuoco on this list because it’s been discussed at length that these stars are insanely overpaid. Yeah, we said it. Are the 20 million viewers that apparently watch this show every episode going to stand up and unite against us? No. You know why? Because no one ever admits to watching this drivel. Apparently, The Big Bang Theory is one of the most popular shows in the history of time, yet we’ve never spoken to anyone who follows the show religiously, or anyone who will own up to the fact that they do at least. We know for sure that audiences aren’t watching it live because the same damn laugh track has been used for 10 seasons. We can’t be too critical, though. As we’ve pointed out, the show is hugely popular. Who would have thunk it? Saying normal things in this fake-geek-speak would be enough to bring in millions of viewers. Is it popular because it makes viewers feel smart if they’re “in” on the joke? Here’s a secret. There are no jokes. They’re just saying everyday things in a faux-scientific language and adding in trigger titles like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. Don’t be fooled.
1. Sofia Vergara – Modern Family – $43 million
$43 million per year is a lot of money, even for an actress of Sofia Vergara’s ilk. This isn’t all Modern Family money though, or else Julie Bowen and her $10 million would have something to say about it. No, Vergara is a very shrewd business woman. She has several different things on the go, as well as several endorsement deals. Over $30 million of her yearly income comes from the different irons she has in the fire outside of acting. That being said, her run on Modern Family has kept her in the public eye and has allowed her to step into these other money-making ventures. The fact that she is a beautiful ageless wonder doesn’t hurt either.