Why the 'Big Bang Theory' Stars Took Surprising Pay Cuts

The Big Bang Theory (CBS) TV Series Season 5 - Photofest- H 2017

The Big Bang Theory stars are giving up some of their Friends-level cash in the name of friendship.

CBS and producers Warner Bros. Television formally renewed the hit Chuck Lorre comedy March 20 with a two-season, 48-episode pickup that will take it through its 12th and expected final season.

Joining stars Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki and Kaley Cuoco in the top-salary tier are Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar. All five have signed rich new contracts that include 1.25 points off the backend, with Parsons and Galecki also extending their respective overall deals with WBTV. The former is executive producing and narrating CBS' straight-to-series prequel Young Sheldon, while the latter's Living Biblically pilot is in contention at the network. Co-stars Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch, who joined in season three and were promoted to regulars a year later, are negotiating together and holding out for salary parity.

Although they are not expected to get it, four-time Emmy-nominee Bialik and Rauch's five colleagues each took a $100,000 per episode pay cut (they'll be making $900,000 an episode) in a show of support. Sources say that Rauch and Bialik are likely to score more than $425,000 per episode, up from the $175,000 they negotiated three years ago. That deal was brokered before Parsons, Galecki and Cuoco — who negotiated together — each signed $1 million per episode deals that first brought the trio into Friends-level territory. (Helberg and Nayyar saw their salaries this season jump to parity with Parsons, Galecki and Cuoco as part of a "favored nations" clause from their last round of negotiations three years ago.)

"In today's media environment, it's significantly more difficult than it was in the '90s to have a breakout show at this level," notes Q Scores executive vp Henry Schafer, who adds that nearly all the castmembers rank among TV's most familiar and appealing. "They are driving tune-in more than the storylines. You have strong negotiating power with this kind of evidence that demonstrates engagement with American TV viewers."

The multicamera comedy comes with a hefty production cost of $10 million per episode. Sources note that CBS and WBTV are expected to jointly cover those costs. In its 10th season, Big Bang Theory remains a key property for CBS and WBTV, ranking as broadcast's No. 1 scripted series in total viewers (19 million) and the advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 demographic (5.1). The network also uses the comedy as a launchpad for new half-hours, with CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves recently noting that spinoff Young Sheldon would likely secure that primetime slot next season.

In addition, syndicated repeats of the series on local cable stations and Turner-owned cable network TBS have helped bring in an estimated $1 billion in syndication revenue for the studio. Local TV deals have been extended beyond season eight, though TBS is unlikely to dole out the big bucks for seasons eight and beyond.

Next up at WBTV's negotiating table is an SVOD deal for the nerdy series as the show's exclusive cable and broadcast windows have expired, as well as a new pact for co-creator Lorre, who insiders say is expected to sign another rich multiyear pact as the independent studio's most important producer (he has three shows on CBS' schedule in 2017-18, including the recently renewed Mom). Big Bang showrunner Steve Molaro, whose deal is up this season, also is expected to re-sign. WBTV declined comment.

A version of this story first appeared in the March 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.