Take a look at the highest-paid TV actors and actresses, and you’ll realize many of the top-earners have something in common: They are all stars on CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, the highest-rated series on television.
Since season 8, Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, Johnny Galecki, Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar have each earned $1 million per episode of the show. For the most recent season, season 10, this added up to $24 million. On top of that, each star earns a percentage of the show’s profits–and will continue to do so long after The Big Bang Theory goes off air.
Other than the stars of Friends, who also earned $1 million per episode in the final seasons, this kind of money is unprecedented on TV and a far cry from the five-figures per episode the core cast received for the first couple of seasons. In total, their salaries from the 12 seasons for which they are currently under contract will add up to north of $130 million.
Why such a big payday? It mainly has to do with the show’s success, both live and in syndication, which translates into a lot money for CBS and production company Warner Bros. Thanks to a winning combination of quirky writing that is smart, yet easy to understand, and a cast of lovable geeks, the show has enjoyed season after season as the number one show on broadcast, averaging 18.99 million total viewers last season. These steady, high ratings are nearly guaranteed: Because the show has not yet been sold to a streaming service, people must tune in live on CBS or to reruns on TBS to get their Big Bang fix.
“It’s a show that transcends generations; it’s a mood changer, period,” says Deb Bradley, Strategic Advisor to the CEO Magid and a former executive at TBS, where The Big Bang Theory is syndicated. She adds that the show came around at the right time, just before the rise of streaming. “Big Bang Theory is one of the last TV shows of it’s kind, from a time when there wasn’t as much choice and original content…. It’s so hard to get through the noise, you can’t replicate Big Bang Theory now.”
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