TV Guide this week released the results of their TV-star salary overview. It will surprise no one that Oprah Winfrey makes way, way more from her show than anyone else on the planet makes from anything, with her annual salary estimated at $260 million. It certainly surprises us that Zach Braff makes a cool $6.3 million a year for his role on the low-rated Scrubs. Certainly no one can deny that making $500,000 per episode of a TV show is insane, even if you are CSI's William Petersen, but which stars provide the most bang for the buck? Who delivers the most butts in seats per salary dollar? We do the math.
With a salary last season of $5 million, Ellen Pompeo sure may not seem underpaid. But given how popular Grey's Anatomy is, she's something of a bargain: For each dollar you pay Pompeo, ABC gets 3.84 people watching Grey's Anatomy. Similarly, each dollar of Eva Longoria's $4.6 million salary buys you 3.80 Desperate Housewives viewers. And Hugh Laurie, until he inevitably renegotiates his contract, is one of the best deals on TV; he's indisputably the star and the major draw of House, and each dollar he's paid brings in a full 2.69 viewers.
Could Simon Cowell possibly be a bargain? Despite earning a whopping $45 million last year, probably so. Not only does that pay for Cowell's appearance on over 40 episodes per season of American Idol, it also includes his producer fees for Idol and other shows. And given how much Fox's entire business plan depends on the enormous ratings Idol brings in, it's worth almost any price to keep the show running as smoothly as it possibly can, and its stars as happy as possible.
But the same can't be said of Christopher Meloni and Mariska Hargitay of Law & Order: SVU. Each makes an identical salary, $7.7 million per season, and for every dollar each actor is paid, SVU only collects 1.54 viewers.
And one of the biggest ripoffs in television acting is the aforementioned Zach Braff, whose $6.3 million salary buys 6.4 million viewers — or only a single viewer for every dollar spent. Dollars to doughnuts that NBC isn't too thrilled about that.