It’s no secret that actors and actresses in Hollywood are given giant sums of money for their craft. When it comes to the big screen, it’s more than common for the actor in the lead role to be earning several million dollars for their time and work in the picture. The smaller screen actors of television might not be raking in as much as the movie actors, but their paychecks are nothing to scoff at. The more successful the show and the longer it runs, the more money the actor pockets on a weekly basis. With a normal TV schedule of 22 episodes per season, actors earn several million per cycle of their show. And should the show make it past the requirement of 88 episodes for syndication, the actor could very well earn even more over the course of the show’s lifetime. This list of the top 10 highest paid TV actors per episode focuses on shows that are still running, be it broadcast or cable. We have also removed reality TV shows, choosing to list only dramas and comedies.
10. David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel (Bones)
The popular Fox crime drama is about to head into its 10th season. Focusing on the scientists at the Jeffersonian Institute in Washington DC, the show is known not only for its twisted murder mysteries but for the dynamic between lead characters Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) and Temperance “Bones” Brennen (Emily Deschanel). The will-they or won’t-they tension and undeniable chemistry have brought audiences back time and time again. And it has paid off for the two leads. Both Boreanaz and Deschanel are not only leads on the show, but are also credited as producers on the show and have done work behind the camera as directors. It is reported that both Boreanaz and Deschanel take home an impressive $250,000 per episode of Bones.
9. Michael Weatherly (NCIS)
Since 2003, Michael Weatherly has played Anthony DiNozzo on the long running CBS military crime drama. Known for being the comic relief in an intense drama, Weatherly’s DiNozzo is a charming goofball that audiences seem to love. His will-they or won’t-they relationship with Ziva on the show has become increasingly popular with viewers and in 2011, Q Score listed Weatherly among the top 10 most popular actors in prime time television. Weatherly not only lends his acting skills to the show, but has also worked behind the camera as director. Appearing in every episode since the first season, Michael Weatherly now takes home a paycheck of $250,000 per episode.
8. Claire Danes (Homeland)
Since 2011, Claire Danes has won a slew of awards for her portrayal of Carrie Mathison on the hit Showtime series Homeland. Danes’s awards, including Golden Globes and Emmy’s, are well earned for her role as CIA operative Mathison who suffers from bipolar disorder, making her volatile at times. Her on screen relationship with Brody (Damian Lewis) is explosive and dangerous and the sort of romance you can’t look away from. The thriller/drama is one of the most critically acclaimed shows on cable television. All these factors have lead to Danes taking home a weekly sum of $250,000 per episode, making her one of the highest paid female actresses on TV.
7. Jon Hamm (Mad Men)
He may have been denied the Golden Globe and Emmy several times now (he’s only won one Golden Globe), but there is no denying Jon Hamm’s magnificent performance as ad-man extraordinaire Donald Draper. The AMC period drama, now in its seventh and final season, has been met with almost universal acclaim and won the award for Best Drama several years in a row. Known for its accurate depiction of life in the 1960s, Mad Men has become one of AMC’s greatest hits. A lot of the praise goes to head writer and creator Matthew Weiner, but there would be no Mad Men without Hamm’s performance. The actor takes home $250,000 per episode. We wonder how many Old Fashioned cocktails that would buy.
6. Simon Baker (The Mentalist)
The CBS show, going into its seventh season, follows Patrick Jane, played by Simon Baker, as he uses his psychic skills to help track down criminals and bring them to justice. The main thrust of the show is the hunting of Red John, the serial killer responsible for killing Jane’s wife and daughter. While Patrick Jane might acknowledge that there’s no such thing as psychics, his skills of reading people have come in handy more than once on the show. Since 2012, Baker has been a producer on the show. For every episode as the handsome and intelligent Patrick Jane, Baker takes home an impressive $300,000.
5. Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory)
In March of 2014, CBS renewed the smash hit comedy for three years, taking The Big Bang Theory into the 2016-2017 season, thus giving the show ten years on the air. The show is a ratings darling, drawing between sixteen and twenty million people each week. Even the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics could barely make a dent in the show’s ratings. The three lead actors—Johnny Galecki as the lovable nerdy Leonard, Kaley Cuoco as Penny, the blonde bombshell who lives across the hall, and breakout star Jim Parsons as everyone’s favorite neurotic Sheldon—are currently pulling in $325,000 per episode. However, that amount may go up in future episodes; it was reported that the three actors are asking for up to one million per episode. Bazinga!
4. Ellen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey (Grey’s Anatomy)
One of the super couples on prime time television, it took Ellen Pompeo’s Meredith Grey and Patrick Dempsey’s Derek Shepherd five years to finally be together once and for all. The ABC medical drama, about to go into its eleventh season, has been on the air for so long due to the explosive storylines surrounding the medical team—from ferry crashes, to plane crashes, to mass murders, to bombs in bodies, to romance, Grey’s Anatomy has weathered many a storm in its long run. The two lead stars, Pompeo and Dempsey, have signed on for two more seasons each, so there’s plenty of MerDer still to come! Each episode of Grey’s Anatomy pays Pompeo and Dempsey a whopping $350,000 and there is no telling how much they might earn should the show stay on the for longer than twelve seasons.
3. Mariska Hargitay (Law and Order: SVU)
With an impressive 15 seasons behind them, NBC renewed the crime drama for a sixteenth season in March. Mariska Hargitay, lead actress who has played Olivia Benson since the first season in 1999, is expected to return. Hargitay’s portrayal of Benson has earned her a spot on several favorite lists over the years. Her character is strong, resourceful and heroic. Never shying away from the darker nature of man, Hargitay’s character has gone up against assault, attempted rape, and torture. Her strong performance over the long running show has netted quite the nest egg; it is reported that Hargitay earns $500,000 per episode.
2. Mark Harmon (NCIS)
Since 2003, Mark Harmon has played Detective Gibbs on the CBS crime drama NCIS. As a father figure to the rest of his crew, Gibbs is sworn to serve and protect the country and those under his charge. Mark Harmon also serves as one of the executive producers on the show. With the strong cast, NCIS is consistently the number one show of its night and pulls in around nineteen million viewers per week. As lead actor, Mark Harmon receives not only accolades but a nice paycheck to go along with them. Each episode finds Harmon receiving $525,000.
1. Ashton Kutcher and Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men)
It was no surprise when Charlie Sheen was fired from the CBS comedy. After his very public meltdown, insisting that he was an Adonis and was “winning,” series creator Chuck Lorre had no choice but to weed out the actor from the hit show Two and a Half Men. Because the show was still a success, Lore and CBS decided to bring in a new actor to fill Sheen’s place. Ashton Kutcher, previously of That ‘70s Show, was brought in to portray a new character, Walden. Since season 9, Kutcher has been the lead actor in the series and will remain so until the show wraps next year, ending with its twelfth season. Despite only being on the show for four years, Ashton takes home a staggering $750,000 per episode. His costar, Jon Cryer, who has been around for the whole run of the series, only takes home $600,000. Petty change.
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