TV is often said to be in its golden age. Audiences have a wealth of quality content to choose from, be it from broadcast television, cable networks or a streaming service. But does that translate into gold for those on screen?
For Sofia Vergara, it sure does. For the fifth year in a row, the Colombian actress tops our list of the world’s highest-paid TV actresses, bringing in $43 million in the 12 months to June before management fees and taxes, which is also more than any TV actor made.
Ironically, it’s not her role as Gloria Delgado-Pritchett that is responsible for her 66% earnings bump over last year. Rather it’s endorsement and licensing deals–for products including a line of furniture, dandruff shampoo Head and Shoulders and even nurse scrubs–that have proven the most fruitful.
That isn’t the case for runner-up Kaley Cuoco, who notched $24.5 million in the same period, almost all from her role as Penny on Big Bang Theory; along with her castmates, she commands the biggest TV deal of the day, making $1 million per episode for the CBS gig.
In all, the 15 highest-paid female stars of the small screen made a combined $208.5 million between June 2015 and June 2016 —$43.5 more than last year’s combined total of $165 million. This increase can be chalked up to some new lucrative endorsement deals (like Vergara’s with the Ninja Coffee Bar and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ with Old Navy ).
New to the list is Priyanka Chopra, who stars on ABC’s Quantico.While Chopra may be relatively new to an American audience, she is one of the most famous faces in India. In the past year, she has starred in two Bollywood mega films (Bajirao Mastani and Jai Gangaajal) and will take her big-screen talent stateside later this year with one of the lead roles in Baywatch alongside Hollywood heavy-hitters including Dwayne Johnson, the world’s highest-paid actor.
But like most television actresses (and actresses, in general), her millions are not made from screen time alone. Chopra is one of India’s top picks for advertisers, recently winning a seven-figure deal with sparkling juice brand Appy Fizz.
Also new to the list is Stana Katic, the lead of ABC’s mystery series Castle. Although the show has received little critical attention, it garners consistent ratings for the network. Katic, who returned for the past and final season last minute, only did so after negotiating a lucrative deal that included a salary increase and a good share of the backend profit.
Louis-Dreyfus may be a familiar name in TV, but she is new to the list, which was launched after her Seinfeld days. The star has since become known as Selena, not Elaine, with her role in VEEP—a lucrative one, especially considering she also serves (and gets paid) as the show’s executive producer. Despite Seinfeld’s notorious $160 million deal with Hulu, Louis-Dreyfus gets paid little to nothing for her work on the show, as she does not receive any percentage of profit.
While Hollywood has a lot of work to do to close the gender wage gap between actors and actresses, it’s not as severe in TV as in the film industry. In part, this is because ensemble casts generally negotiate their salaries together. Vergara, for example, has the same Modern Family paycheck as Ty Burrell and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Cuoco makes the same amount from Big Bang Theory as Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki.
Still, there aren’t nearly enough of these balanced ensemble casts. Across broadcast, cable and streaming, 58% of series regulars are males, according to the Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment. And the percentages of speaking female characters are only 36.4%, 37.3% and 38.1%, across broadcast, cable and streaming, respectively. Speaking roles, which obviously require more work, are rewarded with higher salaries, and the imbalance enforces the gender wage gap.
“For years and years, the role of the lead actress on a sitcom was to do two things: look amazing and to make one-third of what my male co-star makes,” said Mindy Kaling—who ranked third on our list with earnings of $15 million—earlier this year. “So I want to be clear, I do always look amazing on the show, and no man on my show makes more money than me.”
Hopefully more and more producers and directors will take her approach to television, and this gap will continue to close.
Our earnings estimates are based on data from Nielsen Box Office Mojo and IMDB, as well as interviews with agents, managers, lawyers and industry insiders. Our list of the world’s highest-paid TV actors will be published next week, while the lists of the highest-paid film actors and actresses were published in August.
The World’s Highest-Paid TV Actresses 2016
For stars like Sofia Vergara and Priyanka Chopra, the small screen can mean big money. Between June 1, 2015 and June 1, 2016, the world’s 15 highest-paid TV actresses earned a combined $208.5 million, before management fees and taxes. Figures are based on data from Nielsen, Box Office Mojo and IMDB, as well as interviews with agents, managers and lawyers.
15. Zooey Deschanel
The New Girl star has made the series a hit for Fox, a network that has recently struggled with live-action comedy. When not busy shooting the fifth season of the show, Deschanel was lending her voice to the upcoming film Trolls.
13 (tie). Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Louis-Dreyfus, or President Selina Meyer, has come a long way from her Elaine Benes years, winning four consecutive Emmys for Best Actress in a Comedy Series for her role on Veep. She supplements her income with a lucrative endorsement deal for Old Navy.
13 (tie). Emily Deschanel
Going into its 12th and final season next year, Bones has had a long run, allowing Deschanel to renegotiate a top-paying contract. An ongoing lawsuit in which Deschanel and her co-star David Boreanaz are alleging Fox owes them millions in profit participation may lead to an even bigger payday next year.
12. Patricia Heaton
TV veteran Patricia Heaton isn’t slowing down. The actress, known best for Everybody Loves Raymond, is making her mark starring in ABC sitcom The Middle and hosting the Food Network show Patricia Heaton Parties.
11. Pauley Perrette
The NCIS actress has a 13 year history on the show, and it has paid off, allowing her her to work her way to a high-paying contract.
10. Julie Bowen
As part of the Modern Family cast, Bowen enjoys one of the best ensemble contracts in television today. Her ads for Neutrogena propel her to an eight-figure salary.
9. Julianna Margulies
The Good Wife’s last season brought in a hefty paycheck for star Marguilies. The Emmy-nominee will likely not make the cut next year, as she has no announced projects coming out until 2018.
8. Priyanka Chopra
This Bollywood star—she was recently in films Bajirao Mastani and Jai Gangaajal—has made herself known stateside with her star turn in Quantico. And she is about to become even more familiar, with a role in the upcoming Baywatch alongside Dwayne Johnson, Pamela Anderson and Zac Efron.
7. Stana Katic
The Castle star is new to the list thanks to a smart contract negotiation that got her a hefty chunk of the backend, in addition to a salary increase, for the show’s final season.
6. Kerry Washington
The Scandal actress has more than just her role on the Shonda Rhymes show to fill her resume. She has used her high profile to score endorsement deals with Neutrogena, Movado and Apple Music.
4 (tie). Mariska Hargitay
A favorite of detective show fans, Law and Order SVU has seen unprecedented success. The Dick Wolf-helmed show, which stars Hargitay, is going into its 18th season, which means Hargitay’s salary is just going to continue to increase.
4 (tie). Ellen Pompeo
The Grey’s Anatomy actress is one of the first stars who Shonda Rhymes launched, and she is beneffiting to the tune of a top-rate salary.
3. Mindy Kaling
Kaling not only earns a salary for her star role in The Mindy Project, but also one for creating and producing the show. To add to those millions, she has the money from her book deal: She and former Office co-star B.J. Novak reportedly earned an advance of over $7 million for their upcoming book of essays.
2. Kaley Cuoco
Big Bang means a big payday. The Big Bang Theory stars, including Cuoco, have negotiated the best deal in television, currently: $1 million each per episode.
1. Sofia Vergara
While the Colombian actor may be best known for her Emmy-nominated performance as Gloria on Modern Family—a role that earns her millions each year—most of her income comes from lucrative endorsement and licensing deals, including a line of Rooms To Go furniture, a coffee maker and even cheetah-printed nurse uniforms.