'Big Bang Theory's' Big Bucks: Why the Cast Will Earn $1 Million Per Episode
Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco closed "Friends"-like packages that could earn them $100 million each over three years.
A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
When the cast of Friends united to score $1 million each an episode in 2002, the NBC sitcom was averaging a 12 rating among adults 18-to-49 and nearly 25 million viewers a week. Twelve years later, The Big Bang Theory generates about half that rating and 20 million viewers a week. But several castmembers have scored Friends-like packages that will triple their current $350,000-an-episode salaries for an eighth, ninth and 10th season of the CBS hit.
Credit the changed TV landscape, where a runaway hit like Big Bang is far rarer and more valuable to CBS and studio Warner Bros. Television. Losing Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki or Kaley Cuoco — the trio whose deals closed Aug. 4 — was a nonstarter, especially because the network renewed the show in March for three seasons and will use it to boost Mondays in the fall while the NFL airs Thursdays. "The leverage was sitting with them," says Sam Armando, senior vp and director of strategic intelligence at media-buying firm SMGx. "This was the perfect scenario: It's the No. 1 [comedy] on the network and the No. 1 [comedy] on primetime, and CBS went to great lengths to talk about the value of the show beyond Thursday nights because of football."
Under the pact, the trio — who negotiated together, with Parsons receiving added incentives thanks to his three Emmy wins — will receive a boost in backend from 0.25 percent to 1.25 percent. Parsons (CAA, Principal, Gang Tyre), Galecki (WME, Management 360, Hansen Jacobson) and Cuoco (SDB, Brillstein, Hansen Jacobson) also will receive producing pacts. All told, the new deals could earn the stars $100 million each over three years if Big Bang continues to perform on CBS and in syndication, where it is a cash cow for Warner Bros. TV Group president and chief content officer Peter Roth.
Meanwhile, co-stars Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar's new deals grant them 80 percent of the salary that Parsons, Galecki and Cuoco will receive in the upcoming eighth season, which escalates to put them on par with the the trio's $1 million an episode pay in season 10. The duo also will receive the same cut of the show's ownership as the leading trio do — 1.25 percent, up from 0.25 percent in their previous deals.
Melissa Rauch and Mayim Bialik closed new deals in September that brought their per-episode salary from the $30,000 ballpark to roughly $60,000 per season before nearing $100,000 per half-hour by the end of the pacts.
Big Bang repeats on TBS often lure more viewers than anything else on cable (and sometimes broadcast), a feat other recent hit comedies (including Emmy winner Modern Family) have failed to match. "The pot is as big or bigger than it was for Friends, and that's due to syndication rights and the amount of money you get per 30-second commercial," says Bob Williams, CEO at Burns Entertainment, which matches celebrities with brands. Adweek reported in October that first-run Big Bang episodes commanded $326,260 per 30-second spot for the 2013-14 season, second only to NBC's Sunday Night Football.
One person not upset about the pay hikes is series co-creator Chuck Lorre. "I think actors should make as much money as possible," he said during a THR roundtable in June. "When those German cars start pulling up, I'm thrilled -- I know I've done my job."