Film stars may have a reputation for being paid well. But there’s a ton of money that can be made in television. And these top-paid actors prove it.
As technology and digital platforms continue to change how we both create and consume content, these paychecks prove that there’s still plenty of money allocated to the great storytellers we tune in to see go on dramatic (or hilarious) adventures every week.
The numbers quoted here are the most recent information available for the earnings of these stars in 2018 before they pay out percentages to their representatives.
They can also leverage their popularity into (more) lucrative endorsement deals. Plus, they could also star in roles outside of the show, adding to their income. Also, after 100 episodes, shows may go into syndication. Depending on the type of deal the show itself gets, the actors can continue to make money on syndicated episodes – and even more money if they produced as well.
Sofia Vergara (Gloria Pritchett on Modern Family): $41.5 million
Thanks to a healthy number of endorsements, partnerships, and licensing deals combined with her character’s popularity on the extremely successful network show Modern Family, Sofia Vergara’s earnings blow other TV stars out of the water.
She’s been listed as the highest paid TV star for several years in a row.
Jim Parsons (Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory): $27.5 million
The hit CBS show "The Big Bang Theory" provides the next several highest-paid actors on the list.
Parsons' character even has its own network spinoff show, "Young Sheldon," that he helped produce and voice acts in. He has also starred and co-starred in several big budget movies including "Hidden Figures" and "Home."
Johnny Galecki (Leonard Hofstadter on The Big Bang Theory): $26.5 million
Galecki began on the sitcom Roseanne as a smaller role but "TBBT" put him on the map. He collects a healthy salary of reportedly $1 million per episode during a 24-episode season and makes a percentage of the show’s profits.
Kaley Cuoco (Penny on The Big Bang Theory): $26 million
Cuoco’s sitcom series pay is plenty to get by with, but she continues to make more money thanks in part to projects she’s done outside of the show and commercial partnerships like with Priceline.
Simon Helberg (Howard Wolowitz on The Big Bang Theory): $26 million
Yet another "TBBT" show core cast member who, unsurprisingly, can command a high paycheck thanks to the ongoing popularity of the show.
The show just premiered its 11th season and is set to soon start filming the 12th, and possibly final one.
Kunal Nayyar (Raj Koothrapali on The Big Bang Theory): $25 million
The final core cast of "The Big Bang Theory," Nayyar’s claim to fame is that he’s the highest paid TV actor of color and the only male actor of color to make the list.
He’s also published a book and voiced a character in the feature "Trolls."
Ellen Pompeo (Meredith Grey on Grey’s Anatomy): $20 million
After 14 years on the hit Shonda Rhimes led TV show, Pompeo has been outspoken about her journey to the top of the pay charts and her desire for pay equality.
She was recently dubbed “the highest paid woman in television,” which may not show in this salary but her additional equity points along with a signing bonus make her income this year alone from "Grey’s Anatomy" alone (no endorsements or outside projects) extremely impressive.
Mark Harmon (Leroy Jethro Gibbs on NCIS): $19 million
A network crime show as popular as "NCIS" that has been running for for 15 years (and is slated to continue at least one more season with even more likely in the future) means that those involved in the show itself can bank on that popularity.
As the star of the original show (which is so popular there have been a number of spinoffs), Harmon commands an impressive salary. Oh, and he also executive produces the show. So he’s doing just fine.
Ty Burrell (Phil Dunphy on Modern Family): $13.5 million
The goofy dad on the hilarious hit network show, like all of his adult counterparts, are on this high-paid list thanks to the fact that they reportedly negotiated salaries together.
They all earn the same amount per episode, but he tops the list (after Sofia Vergara) because of partnerships and endorsement deals he has along with roles in hit movies
Mindy Kaling (Mindy Lahiri on The Mindy Project): $13 million
After her breakout role in another hit network show, "The Office," Mindy Kaling has shown no signs of slowing down.
"The Mindy Project," which she produces, writes, and stars in, continued several seasons on Hulu after being cancelled on FOX.
She also earns from her published books, producing other TV projects, and really awesome movie roles.
Mariska Hargitay (Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit): $12.5 million
Like "NCIS," this long-running ongoing TV show has proven its popularity over two decades.
As the show’s lead actress, who has been the star from the beginning, she’s won multiple awards for her portrayal and earns a healthy paycheck.
Eric Stonestreet (Cameron Tucker on Modern Family): $12.5 million
Another "Modern Family" adult cast member, Stonestreet’s earnings surpass some of his cast members thanks to outside roles in features and lending his voice to popular animation films like "The Secret Life of Pets."
Julie Bowen, (Claire Dunphy on Modern Family): $12 million
The uptight and hysterical wife of Ty Burrell’s character on the show, Bowen earns money (like the rest of the cast) on points when the show airs.
She’s also had guest starring roles in several TV shows outside of the "Modern Family" world, which help bump her earnings up even more.
Kevin Spacey (Frank Underwood on House of Cards): $12 million
Spacey’s career has taken an obvious turn since the show’s cancellation under controversial circumstances. But before that announcement, Spacey starred and produced the popular Netflix political show.
And he had a thriving film career outside of the hit show.
Ed O’Neill (Jay Pritchett on Modern Family): $12 million
Having played a TV dad most of his career thanks to his breakout role in "Married...with Children," it’s no surprise O’Neill is a popular and well-loved character on an already popular and well-loved show.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Mitchell Pritchett on Modern Family): $11 million
The final "Modern Family" main adult cast member, Ferguson keeps plenty busy making sure his character is both grounded and hysterical.
He’s even earned a handful of Emmy nominations for his portrayal.
Kerry Washington (Olivia Pope on Scandal): $11 million
Like Grey’s Anatomy, "Scandal" is a runaway hit network show from the mind of creator Shonda Rhimes.
And Kerry Washington, who already had a successful film career beforehand, handles the lead role impressively well. She also has endorsement and commercial deals outside of her lucrative "Scandal" salary.
Priyanka Chopra (Alex Parrish on Quantico): $10 million
Chopra earned a healthy salary for starring in the hit show "Quantico."
But she still managed to make time outside of that role to be involved in several other feature film projects — including the reboot of "Baywatch" and a number of other projects she produced in Bollywood (where her star first began to rise).
Robin Wright (Claire Underwood on House of Cards): $9 million
Despite the rise in popularity of her character, Wright was outspoken about her frustrations in never getting equal pay with her male co-star, Kevin Spacey.
Of course, she was still paid well enough to earn a spot on this list. And, though the show has been cancelled, there’s still enough popularity for the idea and for her character that perhaps she could get some sort of spinoff.
Pauley Perrette (Abby Scout on NCIS): $8.5 million
Her co-star earns enough to make the #8 spot on the list, which Perrette rounds out the bottom.
Though some of the earnings difference could be because her co-star Mark Harmon is also a producer of the show.
But with a show that has been as popular as "NCIS" for as long as it has, it’s probably time Perrette moved up higher on this list with a little boost in her salary.