Those are some of the conclusions from a look at the earning power of a select group of television actors and hosts. The Los Angeles Times gathered data on the salaries of these celebrities based on interviews with talent agency representatives, managers and network officials, as well as on published reports.
Next, the annual salary was divided by the total viewers drawn by the star’s show. The quotient reveals what each personality makes per viewer, which provides a rough (sometimes very rough) measure of whether that person is overpaid.
Initial conclusion? Compensation in TV is just as byzantine, unfathomable and illogical as it is in every other field of endeavor, and there are considerable disparities in pay. Experts are not surprised.
“Whoever said there is justice in this world, much less in the broadcasting-cable-radio industries?” asked Doug Spero, associate professor of communications at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C. “The way the networks look at it is like the way oil companies look at crude. It is the product they need, and they are willing to pay for it to make it all work, and there is still plenty of profit.”
Although talent representatives and network officials volunteered pay information on a background basis — or at least offered “guidance” if they thought a figure was too high or too low — no one dared be quoted confirming anything on record given the sensitivity surrounding the subject. Partly that’s a function of not wishing to rub the industry’s riches in the faces of the 99 percent of Americans who don’t get paid, say, a little less than $1 million for what amounts to less than a week’s worth of work (hello, Ashton!).
But it’s also a nod to how radioactive the issue of compensation is. The number of zeros on a paycheck is, after all, the ultimate signifier of a personality’s worth. And that value — or lack thereof — is nakedly apparent when it’s measured alongside the influence that personality has in terms of ratings.
Although TV stars’ pay may seem sky-high by ordinary-person standards, the money is hardly out of line with what top performers yank down in other areas of entertainment or in the pro sports world. Forbes reported that Tom Cruise earned $75 million for movie roles — and that’s just between May 2011 and May 2012. Baseball players Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Joey Votto have multi-year deals, each worth well more than $200 million.