The Most Overpaid Actors on Television

Chris King February 12, 2014 17

2010 Summer TCA Tour - Day 1

While we are lucky enough to be in a truly golden age of television right now, with so many phenomenal series and performances gracing our screens every week, not every show or actor receives the respect or, in some cases, the payment that he or she deserves. Incredibly strong performers on underrated programs, such Jensen Ackles on The CW’s Supernatural or Jake Johnson on Fox’s New Girl, do not earn anywhere close to the money that stars on series like Two and a Half Man and NCIS do. This disparity between what certain actors deserve to be paid and what they actually end up earning made me wonder, who are the most overpaid TV performers out there right now? And after researching and thinking long and hard, I came up with this list for the most overpaid actors on television.

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

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  • SnazzyO

    So… how much DOES Jensen Ackles get paid per episode?

    • http://studentsofcinema.wordpress.com/ Chris King

      The exact figures have not been released, but it’s believed to be about $50,000 per episode.

  • LisaJ2

    But the people who produce and own these shows earn far more than the actors so no matter how bad or overrated some of these shows are, they are earning based on the profit of these shows.

    • http://studentsofcinema.wordpress.com/ Chris King

      You’re completely right, Lisa, and I should have made that point clearer in the article, My goal for this list was simply to discuss, based on talent and merit, which specific actors should be paid more and which ones are already paid too much. It was more of a look at the creative talent that, in my opinion, actually deserves this type of compensation.
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Jake

    While this list is definitely Chris’ opinion, he fails to put anything into context. A lot of the “overrated” actors that he includes on this list are from shows that have been on 6-8 years, so the price tags are raises due to the show commercially performing. NCIS, HIMYM and Big Bang Theory produce high ratings, so that explains why these actors got the raises they did. To compare that to Orphan Black, which is a newer show, is an unfair comparison. More facts, rather than opinions, and context would have made this a more credible list.

    • http://studentsofcinema.wordpress.com/ Chris King

      Jake, I completely understand your point and agree with you that I should have made the distinction clearer between the business side of these shows and the creative side. You’re totally correct with what you say about NCIS HIMYM, and Big Bang Theory receiving high ratings, thus being able to pay their stars more. My goal with this list wasn’t to discuss how ratings impact and influence these shows’ ability to pay their actors, because I thought they were commonly known.
      What I tried to do in this piece was simply state how there is a disparity between talent and compensation with regard to actors’ performances in the TV industry. Many very highly regarded performers are underpaid because their shows do not bring in the big ratings, but I still wanted to make the point that in a “perfect world,” these performers would earn better pay.
      Thanks for reading and commenting, Jake.

      • Akrys Brotuk

        Chris, so you actually don’t agree with him at all. First you say,

        “You’re totally correct with what you say about NCIS HIMYM, and Big Bang
        Theory receiving high ratings, thus being able to pay their stars more. My goal with this list wasn’t to discuss how ratings impact and
        influence these shows’ ability to pay their actors, because I thought
        they were commonly known. ”

        and then you follow up with….

        “What I tried to do in this piece was simply state how there is a
        disparity between talent and compensation with regard to actors’
        performances in the TV industry. Many very highly regarded performers are underpaid because their shows do not bring in the big ratings…”

        The reality is, if their shows and/or talent were as good as the money you think they are worth, they would have a bigger following. Tim Allen for instance, is on a show that isn’t worth a penny I found on the street, but it’s TIM ALLEN. He gets that much, because of his track record, and the fact that if he doesn’t make that much, he can just walk away. “Talent” doesn’t always come in the form of the most “artistic actor”, or even the most “believable character”. Talent, in regards to acting, is getting the audience to want to watch you play a role. The cast of TBBT gets that much, because that many people want to watch them play their roles. You compared them to the cast of Community (a show in which I equally enjoy), but completely pales in comparison to the number of people that watch it, or even get it. Not to mention, NBC has such a weak lineup on Thursday nights now, that they wont even get front-end or back-end spillover from other popular shows (like The Office used to provide). The money DOES follow the talent, and goes to the people that demand a following.

  • Melaniedesi

    I was kinda with you on these until you included Mark Harmon and Michael Weatherly and the Big Bang Theory cast. You may not like NCIS or TBBT but those actors are very good at what they do. If they weren’t, the audiences wouldn’t be connecting and the shows wouldn’t be beating the overall downward ratings trend by actually increasing at various points (like Supernatural has done on the CW) Sure, we don’t get the angst from Tony Dinozzo that we get from Dean Winchester, but NCIS is not that kind of show.
    Really – $50K for Jensen two or three salary negotiations in? He needs a new manager then. One of the TV Guide “What do they make” articles had Jared’s salary at 125K — I always got the impression that they make the same now (although they probably didn’t at first – Jared had a talent holding deal w/ the WB when he was cast in SPN) Of course I have no idea really – but whatever they get, I’m with you that its a travesty that the Two and a Half Men actors can command so much more.

    • Amy Palazola

      I agree, it’s about the connection. Many starts have little acting ability, but their fans love them, so they rake in the bucks. On screen, take Drew Barrymore. No acting ability…same tics…same pronunciation…same facial expressions…hey, I could be talking about Jennifer Aniston, too! However, their fans love them…they look good, so their fans overlook that. I don’t give either one a second thought, but here they are, raking in the bucks because they connect to their fans.

  • D B

    Chris, It’s really very simple. The actors who are on the most profitable shows are paid the most. The TV viewing public has decided which shows they want to watch and your opinion is fine but your clearly in the minority so you article is superflous.

  • Martoukian

    This whole article amounts to “I don’t like the shows the highly-paid actors are on.” If the toddler wants to whine about what TV shows he likes or doesn’t like, he should call his mommy rather than wasting our time.

  • TheDancersDaughter

    @DB-Sorry but you have no idea what your talking about, Kutcher who is the highest paid does not have the most profitable show, as a matter of fact the shows ratings have steadily declined each year and not only broadcast but he’s dragging down syndication numbers as well.

  • Morrison Thompson

    The pay structure in this country is all out of whack anyway. Actors, entertainers and athletes get far more than they deserve. Yet teachers, nurses and other hard working citizens are highly underpaid. If you think actors are overpaid, what about reality TV personalities? At least actors have a career and some talent to work with, Reality TV personalities (I refuse to call them stars) are making millions of dollars with nothing to justify it.

  • bellatrix318

    The Big Bang Theory is funny, if a sitcom makes me laugh out loud and not just a little hehehe, then I am happy.

  • bellatrix318

    As I read your article, you go on and on about who makes what and why and how they are so not deserving, well. . . . I see someone who may have wanted to act and didn’t quite make the cut, so they decided to write editorialized drivel instead. Hitler wanted to be an artist, but he was not good enough and was subsequently shut out of the Austrian art school he wanted to attend, they thought he sucked. So what did he do next? When he became powerful, he pilfered the worlds beloved artworks and systematically killed millions of people. Jealousy is not the answer!

  • Michael Thompson

    Whether you like the show or not, NCIS has been the most watched television show on TV for quite some time and Mark Harmon and Michael Weatherly have been the two mainstays of the show from the very beginning.

  • Kate Fernstrom

    I absolutely do NOT agree with the writer about NCIS, Mark Harmon and Michael Weatherly, or about The Big Bang Theory, two shows I will regularly watch even in syndication. On the other hand I do agree with your opinions on Charlie Sheen, Jon Cryer (and the whiney kid that is thankfully, now gone) from Two and a Half Losers. I agree that Damian Lewis is worth more and Ray Romano less (only thing I liked him in were the Ice Age movies). But it’s about the ratings dude. If they pull them in, don’t scare off the advertisers and people watch…too bad for you. Personally there is very little comedy out right now on network television that I consider even remotely funny. Community, Parenthood, Parks and Recreation, the late The Office, et al. . Except for Leonard’s whiney self-deprecation Big Bang Theory is one show that consistently makes me laugh.