While "Friends" remains one of the most beloved sitcom series ever to grace our television screens, it also made history as one of the first TV shows to pay its actors $1 million per episode. The salary drama between production studio Warner Bros. and cast members Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Courtney Cox and Matt LeBlanc started early in the show's 10-season run. When season 1 debuted in 1994, everyone was reportedly making $22,500 per episode. By season 3, they'd smartly started collectively bargaining and that year each made $75K an episode. As the show continued to grow in popularity, so did their salary expectations and by 2002, they'd successfully negotiated a gigantic $1 million-per-episode deal, bringing each actor a reported $22 million for each of the show's final two seasons. While they were the first to do so, it turned out they wouldn't be the last. Join Wonderwall.com as we uncover which celebs knew their worth and made sure their paychecks reflected it. Keep reading for more…
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Following in the footsteps of the "Friends" stars, the cast of "The Big Bang Theory" did some impressive negotiating in 2014, scoring the original five stars — Kaley Cuoco, Kunal Nayyar, Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki and Simon Helberg — each an impressive $1-million-per-episode deal. However, the cast did something truly incredible in 2017 by willingly taking a pay cut of a reported $100,000 per episode each so that newer co-stars Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch could get a pay raise too from $200,000 to $450,000 per episode.
It turns out being a star on one of the country's most popular TV shows is a good reason to ask for more money. In 2018, the adult cast of "This Is Us" came together to get a serious pay raise ahead of season 3. When they were originally hired, the stars were paid varying amounts based on their previous experience, with Milo Ventimiglia reportedly earning the most at $150,000 per episode and newcomer Chrissy Metz earning $40,000. Their new paychecks saw a big increase, reportedly bringing them each $250,000 per episode.
One superstar who definitely knows her worth is singer, dancer and actress Jennifer Lopez. Back in 2011, J.Lo joined Season 10 of "American Idol" as a judge for a reported $12 million per season. However, after two years on the show, Jennifer was ready for a pay raise. After initial negotiations failed, she actually left "Idol" in 2013. Just a year later, producers gave into her salary demands, welcoming J.Lo back for a jaw-dropping $17.5 million per season until her exit in 2016.
That big smile on Robert Downey Jr.'s face might have something to do with the massive pay raises he's negotiated over the years. After being hired to star in "Iron Man" for a reported $500,000 back in 2008, Robert later negotiated a massive bump to $10 million for both "Iron Man 2" and "Iron Man 3." As if that wasn't enough, he also negotiated substantial profit participation, which means the more money the films made, the more he got paid. It's believed he had a deal for 2.5 percent of the back end early on and that he earned about $50 million for his work in the first "Avengers" film before cashing in with an even higher percentage as the concluded, leading to a payday of at least $75 million for "Avengers: Endgame."
What do you do when you find out your male co-star is earning $10 million more than you for the same film? If you're Charlize Theron, then you demand a pay raise. In 2015, the actress learned — thanks to the infamous Sony hack — that her "The Huntsman" co-star Chris Hemsworth was making more than she was for their upcoming film. Turning knowledge into power (and a payday), Charlize demanded her salary be on par with Chris's and, thanks to her awesome track record of making hit films in Hollywood, execs agreed, granting her a hefty raise.
On the heels of the cast of "Friends" landing a historic $1-million-per-episode pay raise, another cast decided to band together and do exactly the same thing. In 1998, "Mad About You" stars Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser also negotiated a huge salary bump, going from a reported $250,000 per episode to $1 million each per episode. If you're counting, that's a whopping 300 percent increase. Unfortunately for them, their windfall wouldn't last long as their show ended just a year later.
Simon Cowell has sat in the judge's seat on many reality competition shows over the years, including "American Idol," "America's Got Talent," "Britain's Got Talent" and "The X Factor." Along with having a stealthy sense of what's good and what's not, it turns out Simon — who also created or produced some of the shows — is also quite the savvy businessman. In 2009, he negotiated a hefty salary increase for "Idol" from a reported $36 million per season to $45 million, making him one of the highest paid TV stars at the time.
The adult stars of "Modern Family" weren't going to back down when studio executives wouldn't listen to their salary demands following a successful season 3. After negotiations took a downturn — leading to a lawsuit and a canceled table reading — cast members Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet and Sofia Vergara finally got mostly what they wanted after the studio agreed to pay them an estimated $150,000 of their requested $200,000-per-episode demand. They were also given bonuses that would bring their per-episode figure up to around $175,000 each as well as minor profit participation deals. Prior to their negotiations, only cast member Ed O'Neill was receiving over $100,000 an episode, thanks in part to his successful TV past.
Friends don't let friends get paid less, at least when your friend is actress Jessica Chastain. In 2018, Octavia Spencer revealed that when she told Jessica that she, along with many black women and women of color in Hollywood, were being paid far less than their white co-stars, Jessica went back to execs and demanded Octavia's pay for their upcoming untitled holiday comedy film be on par with hers. Octavia confirmed her salary was increased five-fold.
Bet the adolescent cast members of "Stranger Things" are richer than you! After earning an estimated $30,000 per episode for the first two seasons, Millie Bobby Brown, Caleb McLaughlin, Gaten Matarazzo, Finn Wolfhard and Noah Schnapp (not pictured) negotiated a hefty increase in 2018, settling somewhere in the ballpark of $250,000 per episode each. Their adult co-stars did even better, reportedly getting their salaries bumped to $350,000 per episode.
Another actor who was inspired to get his money after the cast of "Friends" got notoriety for doing the same was Tim Allen, the star of ABC's "Home Improvement." Tim reportedly went into negotiations for a more than 400 percent pay raise, asking that his salary be bumped to $1.25 million per episode for the eighth and final season of the series. Tim, who was originally paid $200,000 per episode, had become increasingly more famous after starring in "The Santa Clause" and as the voice of Buzz Lightyear in "Toy Story," giving him more negotiating power with studio execs. His tactics worked and for the final 27-episode season, Tim earned an impressive $33.75 million.
Rachel Brosnahan went from being a lesser known actress to the actress to know, thanks to her award-winning role as Miriam "Midge" Maisel on Amazon Prime's "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel." The show's critical acclaim hasn't just made Rachel a household name — it's also secured her a hefty pay raise. In 2019, ahead of the show's third season, Rachel negotiated a salary increase to bring her a reported $300,000 per episode, a considerable bump from her previous $100,000-per-episode rate. The show's other stars are also getting sizable increases, with Tony Shalhoub (not pictured), who plays Miriam's father, reportedly earning $250,000 per episode for season 3, which premieres on Dec. 6, 2019.
"Shameless" star Emmy Rossum shamelessly negotiated a pay raise that would put her on par with her co-star, Oscar-nominated actor William H. Macy. Although both actors received the same billing, Emmy learned that Bill was earning a reported $350,000 per episode, considerably more than her. In 2016, after six seasons of the series, Emmy took a stand, not only demanding equal pay but more to cover the money she should have made over the years. When Bill was asked about Emmy's move, he supported her, saying, "She works as hard as I do. She deserves everything… They wrote the Equal Rights Amendment in 1927; it didn't get passed until 1972. It still hasn't been approved by all the states… It's about f—ing time, don't you think?" Studio executives apparently agreed and gave Emmy — who announced she was leaving the show in 2018 — everything she asked for.
The young cast of "13 Reasons Why" only needed one reason to ask for pay raises following their successful season 2 premiere in 2019: ratings. The series lead, Dylan Minnette (second from left) negotiated the biggest increase, going from just $80,000 per episode to a reported $200,000 per ep. His co-stars including (from left to right) Ross Butler, Alisha Boe, Christian Navarro and Devin Druid have also upped their net worth, earning an estimated $135,000 per episode after originally being paid between $20,000 and $60,000 per episode the last two seasons.
It pays to be a reality drama queen. "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" star NeNe Leakes has retained her crown as the highest paid Atlanta housewife on the Bravo series. Prior to season 12's premiere in 2019, NeNe renegotiated her contract and got another pay raise, going from a whopping $2.75 million per season to $2.85 million. While a $100,000 increase might not seem like a lot, NeNe is making way more than the rest of her co-stars, including Kandi Burruss, who — as the second-highest paid series regular — makes a reported $2.3 million per season. Other ladies on the show make between $150,000 and $1.75 million each season.
Well, this is awkward. When Rob Lowe joined "The West Wing" in 1999, he was one of the highest paid actors in the ensemble cast, making a reported $70,000 per episode. However, Rob learned he was making far less than co-star Martin Sheen, who got bumped to a reported $300K per episode. When Rob attempted to also renegotiate, he was reportedly told to "wait another year." By 2003, Rob hadn't received a raise and left the show, while Martin continued on as its highest paid star.
"Dexter" star Michael C. Hall leveraged his show's epic ratings into an even more epic paycheck. For the first six seasons of the popular series, Michael — who'd previously starred on "Six Feet Under" — made a reported $295,000 per episode. He used the fact that his contract was up for renewal and the show's season 6 ratings surge to ask for $24 million for each season going forward — a pay raise of $535,00 per episode. Negotiations were stalled when Showtime wouldn't meet his dollar amount, offering him $20 million instead. The future of the show remained in limbo for months before execs caved and gave Michael — who was ready to walk — exactly what he wanted. The show remained on the air for two more seasons, meaning Michael became $48 million richer.
When the Netflix original comedy series "On My Block" first aired in 2018, the show's stars, including Jason Genao, Brett Gray, Sierra Capri and Diego Tinoco, were making a reported $20,000 each per episode. After two successful seasons and an order for season 3, the kids negotiated a well-deserved pay raise and now earn a reported $81,250 per episode. Although it's considerably lower than some of the other Netflix stars we've featured — like the cast of "Stranger Things" and "13 Reasons Why" — the kids have also negotiated future pay raises, going up to more than $106,000 per episode in season 4 and $131,250 in season 5.
Even though Ellen Pompeo has served as the titular star of the long-running ABC medical drama "Grey's Anatomy" since it debuted in 2005, she found out that now-former co-star Patrick Dempsey was making substantially more. When Ellen asked for a raise — actually, for $5,000 more per episode than Patrick, on principal — she was told "no." But she didn't back down and in 2017 finally inked a lucrative deal that made her one of the highest paid actresses on a drama series, earning $575,000 per episode — there are 24 in a season — plus a hefty seven-figure bonus and both production and back-end deals, bringing her estimated per-season earnings to more than $30 million.
In 1993, four years after "Seinfeld" debuted, the show's ensemble cast — minus titular star Jerry Seinfeld — banded together to negotiate a raise that would bring them $160,000 per episode. Another four years later, as the stars of one of America's most popular shows, the cast used their ratings power to negotiate yet another raise, this time netting them a whopping $600,000 per episode. On the flip side, Jerry — who served as a writer and producer for the series — was already making a reported $1 million per episode. He reportedly turned down an astonishing $5-million-per-episode offer to return to the series after it ended in 1998.
Ray Romano capitalized on the popularity of his sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond" in 2003 ahead of the eighth season to garner himself a massive pay bump. At the time, Ray was making a reported $800,000 per episode, but his new deal increased his per-episode rate to an estimated $1.8 million. Given that he filmed around 23 to 24 episodes per season, the raise brought him a whopping $41 million per season.
After a successful season 2 in 2018, "Westwood" stars Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, Ed Harris and Thandie Newton secured a pay bump of more than double what they were previously making. After reportedly earning between $100,000 and $150,000 per episode to start, a new contract negotiated ahead of season 3 reportedly nets each actor roughly $250,000 per episode.
Prior to her 2017 stand-up comedy show "The Leather Special," Amy Schumer asked Netflix for more money, even though she'd already signed a deal with them for $11 million. Citing male comedians like Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle making far more than she was offered, Amy renegotiated and the tactic worked: Amy was able to secure $2 million more for her special, making her one of the highest paid female comedians in the country. She also later clarified her move on Instagram, responding to critics who claimed she wasn't as established as the male comedians she compared herself to, saying, "I believe women deserve equal pay. However I don't believe I deserve equal pay to Chris and Dave. They are legends and [two] of the greatest comics of all time."
Kelsey Grammer reportedly earned $250,000 per episode for his hit sitcom "Frasier" by the eighth season. However, prior to season 9, Kelsey negotiated a major pay raise that brought him $1.6 million per episode. As the show continued for two more seasons, Kelsey was able to earn an estimated $75 million between 2003 and the series' end in 2004.