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TV

Inflation-Adjusted Sitcoms: $1 Million Per Episode Is Cheap for Big Bang


Inflation-Adjusted Sitcoms: $1 Million Per Episode Is Cheap for Big Bang

Photograph by CBS Photo Archive

A cool $1 million for a day’s work doesn’t seem shabby. That’s what the stars of CBS’s (CBS)Big Bang Theory will be collecting: the three-season contract they finalized yesterday made them the highest-paid sitcom stars on television today.

Still, $1 million isn’t what it used to be. It meant a lot more in 2002 when the cast of Friends broke the seven-figure mark in a deal with Warner Brothers (TWX). Adjusting for inflation, Ross, Phoebe, and the gang were each making $1.32 million per episode in 2014 dollars.

In 1997, the cast of Seinfeld (minus Seinfeld, who also produced the show) were getting $600,000 apiece per segment. That’s $891,000 today.

Charlie Sheen, however, is the champ of sitcom salary negotiation. In 2011, he was making $1.25 million for each taping of Two and a Half Men. That windfall, however, probably made him just a tad easier to fire.

Here’s how pay breaks down for some of TV’s funniest actors.

In the negotiations, the CBS attorneys no doubt noted that sitcoms don’t draw the eyeballs they used to, because of cable and cop dramas. Their clutch argument: “Do you know what we pay those schmoes on Big Brother?“ In turn, the actors’ attorneys probably pointed out Big Bang’s consistent place in the top of the Nielsen (NLSN) charts—even during the summer rerun season. Last week, some 5.4 million Americans tuned into a Big Bang rerun in prime time and another 2.3 million households watched one of the reruns on cable. The talent also likely pointed out the long tail of revenue CBS gets from selling old episodes to Netflix (NFLX) and other streaming services.

Only three of the show’s five stars cracked the $1 million mark—Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, and Kaley Cuoco. The other two, Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar, will collect somewhere in the mid-six figures per episode. If Helberg and Nayyar hadn’t taken the deal, they were going to be written out of the show, according to Variety. One assumes those two won’t have to pick up the check at lunch.

Kyle-stock-190
Stock is an associate editor for Businessweek.com. Twitter: @kylestock

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