January 10 2009

Are Actors Overpaid

himym raisesIt’s a question that comes up time and time again, and yet it never seems to get an answer: Are actors overpaid?

It’s been in the news that the cast of the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother has just received significant raises that bring their paychecks into the range of $90,000 – $120,000 per episode.  While this is twice what they had been earning, it still puts them far behind other shows such as The Office.  In addition to their raises, they also extended their contracts from seven years to eight years, guaranteeing this ensemble cast a pretty steady income.  At the low end, they are looking at $1.98 million for a 22-episode season.

This is actually a show I watch each week, and enjoy, thought I would never herald it as high-brow humor.  It relys heavily on catch phrases (It’ll be legend… wait for it… dary), sight gags and other cliches.  While I am happy for the cast on one hand, it also makes me thing, once again, about just how much actors are paid.  Did you know that Charlie Sheen receives $825,000 per episode of Two and a Half Men?  That is just over $18 million a season.

True, a show such as How I Met Your Mother brings in quite a bit of money via advertising, and with the show now moving to syndication reruns, it will bring in even more.  The cast should share in that wealth because they do put in long hours, but at the same time, is the crew getting such significant raises?  What about the writers?  While there is no news if these people also got raises, even if they did, I doubt it is in the same ballpark as what the actors on the show are receiving.

Television actors, while arguably over paid, are nothing compared to film actors.  Who remembers the days when big name actors were scoring $20 million paychecks per film?  If this is still going on, hopefully not, they are keeping it much quieter.  No actor, I don’t care who you are, is worth that much money, and in the smaller scope, I certainly don’t think someone like Charlie Sheen is worth his $18 million a season deal.

There is no denying that actors are the “face” of what ever production they are in, but this just seems like poorly timed news to see people getting paid so much more for a job such as this.  The same day this was announced, it also came out that unemployment in the United States had hit a 16-year high, reaching 7.2%, and estimates saying it could hit 10% by year’s end.

Again, I hate that this news is connected to a show I actually enjoy, and it won’t stop me from watching it, but in the back of my head the entire time I will be asking myself, “are they really worth this?”  So, what say you?  Are actors over paid for what they do?  Yes, it is part of sharing in the profits of a production, but at what point do you finally draw a line and say, “Seriously, why do you need to earn this much to act?”

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  • Aspiring Writer

    Where else will the money go? Its hard to say "oh this person is getting way too much money." If they didn't give the actors raises where would the money go otherwise? The CEOs? Would the advertisers just pay less money? Would cable costs go down? I say if its going to anyone it should go to the people making the show. Yes I fully agree that writers and other crew members should also write more.

    Also a lot of what they do is intangible. Its alot easier to learn how to build a set, operate a camera, etc. than it is to play a particular role. The other aspect is that if you replace the camera man fewer people will notice than if you replace a lead actor. If a show is going well and making money, a producer doesn't want to change things, The "if it aint broke don't fix it" mentality.

    I'm very tired so this post is not the most intelligible. Either way it is an interesting topic for discussion.

    • I agree that no more money needs to go to CEOs, but I would just like to see it distributed a bit more evenly amongst the crew. Yes, replacing an actor is difficult, but not impossible

  • El WiseGuy

    It's all relative to what the movie makes. They don't make nearly as much as the guy signing the cheques!
    If you think actors are overpaid, who ever pays the money is making a fortune!

  • John

    Only a handful of actors are name openers, and next to the name openers are actors who I like to call "they just 'get' acting" like Tilda Swinton and Colin Firth. Sometimes the latter group can be a name opener, but that's rare. I wouldn't say Harrison Ford is a strong actor — he's a name opener. As for their salary: it's a private sector. Whatever budget executives set aside for their actor payroll is their decision. It's private money.

    Now, I'll say that ever since agents entered the business, that %5 of actor (according to SAG) who make more 50K a year, are paid Handsomely. If the production budget is $40MILL and the advert budget is $40MILL, too, that's a $80MILL budget for the entire project. A couple of million for the lead actor is chump change when one looks at the budget on a holistic level. The question is, more importantly if you're an investor, is if the movie makes a profit at the domestic BO. If the domestic BO is around $80MILL then the up-front negotiated salary of an actor is justified in their eyes. The studio is heading towards the black zone for profit. Add in oversea gross and one could be looking at a nine figure world wide gross.

    At times I have sympathy for the actors and all the paparazzi crap they have to go through and all the mean stuff that are floating around the internet about them, but at the end of the day that sympathy is quickly taken back. I bet more than half of the lucky that make mid six figures a year (their the 1% of their industry, ironically) know how to budget smartly let alone are no more intelligent that a public high school drop out who probably isn't the next Mark Zuckerberg (granted Zuckerberg is highly intelligent).

    • John

      I mean, "I bet more than half of the lucky that make mid six figures a year DO NOT know how to budget smartly"