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“Our endorsement department is a well-oiled machine,” Luis Balaguer, Vergara’s manager, and business partner for over 20 years, told Forbes. “Even now, our attention is on the people watching Modern Family and how to appeal to the outside of the show, too.”
Vergara’s business-first mentality has put her way ahead of her fellow stars when it comes to earnings. With per-episode earnings of $1 million, Kelly Cuoco’s Big Bang Theory income, for example, is more than two times Vergara’s Modern Family paycheck. But Cuoco (No 2; $26 million) doesn’t have nearly as many endorsements or licensing deals.
Combined, the world’s 10 highest-paid TV actresses made $156.5 million between June 1, 2016, and June 1, 2017. Earnings estimates are based on data from Nielsen, Box Office Mojo, and IMDB, as well as interviews with industry insiders. All figures are pretax; fees for agents, managers, and lawyers are not deducted.
All but two of the 10 highest-earning leading ladies in television hail from the original broadcast networks thanks to long-running series with 20-plus episodes per season. With longer seasons, networks demand more time from their stars but with their more limited slates, they can pour more money into their hit shows. As a result, salaries on these series can soar up to an estimated $1 million an episode, compared to an estimated $350,000 an episode for a limited series such as Big Little Lies.
Robin Wright (No. 9; $9 million) joins Kaling from the streaming world. The Netflix star of House of Cards banked big for her role as Claire Underwood on one of the first shows to bring cinematic names to streaming services. Wright has since been joined by the likes of Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Emma Stone in terms of film actresses trying out the small screen.
“It used to be that films are the prestigious ones and that television was more the junk food, but that’s not true at all anymore. They are definitely on equal footing,” Paul Verna, eMarketer’s chief video analyst, told Forbes.
Despite her Emmy-nominated performance and attempts to negotiate equal pay, Wright couldn’t squeeze out quite the half-a-million dollars per episode salary of her costar Kevin Spacey. Still, it is generally easier to find pay equality in television than the film, because small-screen casts often negotiate as a group. In TV, all the stars of a show, whether male or female, tend to make the same amount. Take Julie Bowen (No. 6; $12 million) who earns the same amount from Modern Family as Vergara and her male costars Ty Burrell, Eric Stonestreet, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Ed O’Neill.
The problem remains that there are fewer star roles for women on TV to make that money. According to a recent report by San Diego State University, only 42% of speaking characters on television are women or girls, and only 11% of all programs feature casts with more female than male characters. Luckily, this seems to be shifting as legacy series with strong female characters like Mariska Hargitay (No. 5; $12.5 million) on Law and Order: SVU remain popular, and newer shows including the Priyanka Chopra (No 8; $10 million)-fronted Quantico gain buzz.
As Witherspoon said at the Emmys, “It’s been an incredible year for women in television.” And that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.