The Best-Paid Actors in TV As Angela Bassett Becomes Highest-Paid Actress of Color

Angela Bassett has been given a hefty pay rise for the fifth season of Fox show 9-1-1. The actress is reportedly taking home $450,000 each episode, which according to Deadline may be the highest ever salary for an actress of color on a drama series. It is also in the top salary bracket for TV actors in general, meaning the What's Love Got to Do With It and Black Panther actress is now seated among some real high-rollers.

Here we look at some of the highest-paid actors in the history of the small screen.

The Cast of Friends

Friends Cast
Warner Bros. Television/Getty Images

Jennifer Aniston's salary from Apple TV+ is huge (more on this below) but she was already one of the highest-paid TV performers 20 years ago—along with her five Friends co-stars.

According to Variety, the sitcom's six leads—Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer—were each paid $750,000 an episode by 2001.

The following year, this was bumped up to $1 million each for a 22-episode run.

The six returned to the Friends set for a reunion episode that aired on HBO Max in May this year. They were paid at least $2.5 million each for the 100-minute special.

Kaley Cuoco

Kaley Cuoco
Mike Windle/Getty Images for Bethesda/Getty Images

The Big Bang Theory cast were all pretty well paid by the end of the long-running CBS sitcom—and Kaley Cuoco was on one of the highest rungs.

Her salary in 2018 was $24.5 million for a season, according to Forbes. This was reportedly about $1 million less than her top-billed co-stars Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki, but $1 million more than series regulars Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar.

Cuoco and her male co-stars reportedly took pay cuts to boost the salaries of Melissa Rauch and Mayim Bialik, who both joined the show a little later and were on significantly lower wages.

Cuoco is now star and producer of The Flight Attendant on HBO Max, so is likely taking home hefty pay packets for both those jobs.

Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon

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Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston in 'The Morning Show.' Apple TV+

Apple TV+ reportedly pays Aniston and Reese Witherspoon $2 million each for every episode of The Morning Show.

It is a large sum for TV, but Witherspoon has asked why her salary seems to bother people.

In a December 2019 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Witherspoon did not confirm or deny the amount, but did question why so many reports appeared fixated on it.

She said: "There seemed to be a resentment, as if we weren't worth it or it was bothersome, and I thought, 'Why is that bothersome?'

"I guarantee these companies are real smart, and if they agree to pay us, they're doing it for a reason. They probably had a lot of lawyers and a lot of business people decide on that number because they knew that they were going to make more than that back."

"Does it bother people when Kobe Bryant or LeBron James make their contract?

Kelsey Grammer

frasier reboot
'Frasier' star Kelsey Grammer NBC

Kelsey Grammer played the lead in one of the most successful sitcoms of all time, Frasier, for 11 seasons from 1993 to 2004.

The character of Dr. Frasier Crane began as a love interest for Diane in Cheers, but the spin-off took on a life of its own—and is even being rebooted for Paramount+.

According to Variety, Grammer renegotiated his Frasier salary in 2001. For the final two seasons of the show, he was paid $1.6 million an episode, making him the highest-earning TV actor in history.

His salary for the reboot has not been revealed.

Ellen Pompeo

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Ellen Pompeo as Meredith Grey in "Grey's Anatomy" ABC

Ellen Pompeo is one of the longest-standing TV leads, having played Meredith Grey on Grey's Anatomy since the show began in 2005.

According to Forbes, Pompeo earned $550,000 per episode in 2020. She also takes a share from the syndication profits of around $6 million a year.

Pompeo is one of three actors who have been on the show as a main cast member since the start, along with Chandra Wilson and James Pickens Jr.

Other big names who have appeared on the show include Patrick Dempsey, Sandra Oh and Katherine Heigl.

Sofia Vergara

Sofia Vergara
Sofia Vergara at the Golden Globe Awards 2020. Steve Granitz/Getty Images

Sofia Vergara was named the highest-paid woman in showbusiness by Forbes in 2020, taking home $43 million for her work on Modern Family and as a judge on America's Got Talent, as well as for her many licensing and endorsement deals.

She beat movie stars such as Angelina Jolie and Gal Gadot to the top spot, in a year dominated by "small-screen paydays" during the pandemic, according to Forbes.

Vergara had previously topped the Forbes list of highest-paid TV actresses for seven years in a row. In 2018, she earned almost double the amount paid to Cuoco, who was in second place.