TV's Highest-Paid Stars 2012 - 2013: Salaries Per Episode

Acting Salaries (Mostly) Decrease; Reality Show Salaries Increase

If Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard worked as a TV actress today, her famous line would be: "I am big. It's the paychecks that got small."

Networks and studios have continued to take a hard line on holding down salaries, based on TV Guide Magazine's annual survey drawn from conversations with agents, network executives and studio heads. Rare is the lead actor who can enter a new series earning more than $125,000 an episode. The exceptions are those with a ratings track rec­ord of having a major hit show (Matthew Perry) or a significant career in feature films (Kevin Bacon).

Premium cable networks such as HBO and Showtime can go higher with series that produce only 13 episodes a year. But newcomers to shows with ensemble casts earn around $30,000 or less per episode. Established mid-level actors are seeing lower rates as well. "The third role down, there are no qualms in sending out offers that are way below an actor's price quotes," one agent notes. "The actor who made $75,000 a couple of years ago is now being offered $50,000 or $60,000."

The television industry can thank the feature-film business for creating the current buyers' market. Movie studios are now driven by big-budget action thrillers that play well internationally, leaving little work for actors who made their living in genre movies, romantic comedies and family films. "Theatrical talent is coming into television, and that's pushing the price of television people down," says one network president. A tough economic climate — and smaller ratings — has also given TV executives the courage to say no. "They say we have no money and they hold firm," according to one talent manager.