TV Salaries: Are Your Favorites Worth Their Paycheck?

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It’s rare that I am asked about economics. For any number of reasons. But today I saw an article that made me think about personal economics, and it made me consider the fruits of someone’s labor being cheap, overpriced, or maybe just right. Here goes…

Don’t you feel good when you eliminate a borderline frivolous expenditure (like trips to the drive-thru’s or fancypants coffee) that gives you a few extra dollars back each week? Usually there are trade-offs, but frequently the rewards are substantial. Take the car thing. Ever opted out of some cool button or whistle because it made your car payment $20 or $30 less per month?  And if you did, aren’t you glad? (Until somewhat recently I had a car without power windows or a CD player. A very shrewd cost-cutting maneuver, I’d thought, until the anxiety of cranking windows and listening to cassette tapes sent me maniacally into drive-thru’s and prompted the purchase of fancypants coffee).

Now think about people who entertain us. What are they actually worth to you? Can Ashton Kutcher earn his $700,000-an-episode keep on Two and a Half Men?

Clearly no one can argue with the fact that anyone who shaves off a few bucks each and every week will invariably be better off down the road. In fact, according to TV GuideCSI is doing precisely that by switching out their stars, and with the exit of one they are saving plenty. I mean really and truly, why pay Laurence Fishburne $350,000 an episode when you can pay Ted Danson just $225,000 instead? Those are substantial savings. Wouldn’t you want to save $125,000 a week for 22 weeks?? That’s $2,750,000 saved! Not bad. Plus, I don’t think Ted Danson does too much wrong and suspect he’ll be a super-welcome addition to that cast. I know it’s a little icky/ridiculous to be discussing numbers like these in the context of today’s tough times. But audiences still want to be entertained. Plus, within a thriving entertainment business (which, by many people’s standards, Hollywood still has) at least  TV stars work regularly and consistently. In Hollywood, a TV series is as steady a gig as one can have. Isn’t that sort of a compelling justification for Hugh Laurie’s $700,000 an episode – or Mark Harmon’s $500K a week?  You want Tim Allen and Kiefer Sutherland back on network television? That’ll be $225,000 per episode each for their new fall shows. And even though TV-actor money looks pretty good, it’s the “personality” types who seem to do even better. Letterman leads the late night pack with $28 million dollars a season, while Leno trails just behind with $25 million. Apparently poor Jimmy Fallon is still cutting his teeth and learning the ropes, because he only brings in $5 million (which is at least better than George Lopez who earns $3.5 million annually).

The point is, these people make big bucks because the folks who produce the shows believe they’re worth it – because they make us laugh, or cry, or whatever. What do you think? Are they worth it? Would you be disappointed if your favorite stars weren’t on TV because of their salary demands? It’s clearly a controversial topic – but we do want to know what you think.

Today’s poll:

TV Guide’s salary rankings are here. Voice your choice in today’s featured poll and tell us which of these top TV earners is your favorite:

1)   Hugh Laurie ($700K/per episode)

2)   Mark Harmon ($500K/per episode)

3)   Jim Parsons ($250K/per episode)

4)   Tim Allen ($225K/per episode)

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