'The Big Bang Theory' salary renegotiations: Do they all deserve the same pay?


One of the more fascinating salary negotiations in TV history involved the Friends cast, when Courteney Cox, David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Matthew Perry, Lisa Kudrow and Matt LeBlanc chose to negotiate their salaries together, having decided that no one actor on the cast was worth more than the other. That pleased Warner Bros. TV to no end, of course, because it meant they could say, “Pay everyone LeBlanc money, not Cox money!” Even today, former execs from that era brag about how the actors left money on the table at the expense of keeping things harmonious on the set. (That might be true, but the cast’s friendships sure remained intact.)

Cut to 2010, when another salary renegotiation is winding its way through the halls of Warner Bros. TV. It just so happens to involve a comedy that’s pretty much replaced Friends in terms of popularity, critical praise, and its ability to generate millions in revenue: The Big Bang Theory. As is customary for any successful show approaching its fifth and sixth years (Bang is currently in its fourth season), the core ensemble of five have jockeyed for more money. Interestingly, three of those castmembers — Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco and Johnny Galecki — initially decided to follow in the footsteps of the Friends actors by negotiating as one but, as first reported by Deadline, the Emmy-winning Parsons made the decision to break away and negotiate on his own. Lucky for Cuoco and Galecki, his strategy didn’t work, and now all three are earning roughly $200,000 per episode this season — up from $60k last year — and will see $50,000 bumps each year over the next three years, as well as a piece of the comedy’s rich syndication profits.

That left Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar, who negotiated separately. Though it can be argued that Parsons, Cuoco and Galecki are lead material, both Helberg and Nayyar are certainly integral to the show’s success. Indeed, some of the comedy’s best moments are when Parsons, Galecki, Helberg and Nuyyar are together. But clearly, the studio wasn’t looking to follow a favored nations strategy because Helberg, who plays Howard Wolowitz, just closed a deal to earn north of $100,000 per episode, EW has confirmed. That’s up from around $40,000, but nowhere near what Parsons, Galecki and Cuoco are making.

Though Nayyar (Raj) has yet to sign a new pact of his own, it doesn’t appear that he was offered the same amount as Helberg or else he would have signed by now. Reportedly, Nayyar is expected to close a deal shortly; if not, the negotiations could be postponed to season’s end and he’ll have to continue earning around $25k per episode under his current, six-year contract. But it would be wrong to assume this was a contentious negotiation, said one interested party. “Granted, no one was skipping to the mailbox and cashing a check — there was some teeth pulling — but in the end, everybody is going to make a ton of money,” the source said.

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  • maiv

    Realistically, I don’t really see why they should earn the same amount. I don’t watch this show anymore, but when I was, it was pretty much the Sheldon show…
    Still sad for Raj tho. I would have expected him to make as much as Wolowitz. And I can see why they don’t make as much as the other three.

    • TJ. Church

      You need to watch some of this season; Ironically, as Jim makes more money, he is featured in storylines less.

      • Richard Whitman

        Big Bang Theory = unfunny lowest common denominator crap for morons.

      • Holly

        Haha funny post Richard – I get it, you’re saying the “opposite of the truth” right? Like, irony? Hilarious.

      • Muh

        I know it’s ridiculously late for this, but wow…Holly’s sense of humor absolutely sums up the fans of this show. LAME.

    • Zakry

      Then why do you feel qualified to comment on a show you no longer watch?

    • Garry

      It SHOULDN’T be The Sheldon Show.
      It began as an ensemble show, but the Sheldon character took over, and became increasingly obnoxious in the process. Once in a while, he is relegated to the background, which allows the others to shine. I’m hoping for more episodes like that in the future.

    • musica1

      Parsons makes the show. Period. There wasn’t one person like that in Friends. But Galecki and Cuoco are important, too. The show wouldn’t be the same without them. On the other hand, you could probably replace the other two with two different weirdos and the show wouldn’t suffer.

      • Garry

        musuica 1, you’re crazy. Parsons does NOT make the show. If anything, he is dangerously close to ruining it. With this cast, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I would enjoy TBBT just as much without so much Sheldon.

        But thanks for the generous observation that “Galecki and Cuoco are important too.” Gee whiz!

      • DAVID

        You can’t replace any of them. They are all of the same importance now. Over and over other shows have tried to replace cast members and it just didn’t work. They grow on you and the show just isn’t the same without them.

  • Liva

    I think all five deserve ‘Cox money’.

    • Miss Talk

      I don’t get it.Why “Cox money” ? As far as I remember, those who got their salary reduced were Aniston and Schwimmer, not Cox.

      • Liva

        My point is that all deserve really big bucks. The writers, too.

      • Liz

        No, Courtney was the only big name when the show started (from Ace Ventura). No one had ever heard of the other five. Then a few years in when salary negotiations started, she was fresh off of Scream/Scream 2 and could’ve demanded more than the rest of the cast.

      • Joe

        @Liv: Cox was famous from Family Ties and the Dancing in the Dark video with Bruce Springsteen way before Ace Ventura. Ace Ventura and Friends came out the same year.

      • Hilary

        Cox was by far the most annoying, aside from Pheobe. I do believe Ross and Anniston carried the show by the end. Friends would not have worked as a single-woman star show. She is just too annoying for that.

    • Rand

      I’d call 1,000,000 dollars per episode ‘cox’ money, at the very least…

      • Jeri

        Cox was supposed to be the star of Friends but it soon became obvious it was an ensemble show and Cox was went along with that and did not push for “star” status as so many others do.

        BBT is also an ensemble and all the characters certainly contribute and any one of them would be sorely missed.

  • JLC

    Seriously? The cast meshes well, but for the most part, it’s “Sheldon and the Seven (actually four) Dwarves.” The only other actor that I would consider even remotely irreplaceable is Leonard.

    • Kat

      They are all irreplacable.

      • wooster182

        I disagree. I could easily do without Penny and Leonard and watch more of Amy and Howard and his girlfriend.

      • thin

        Fortunately for the rest of us, you neither write nor cast the show.

      • reason

        really? I thought the Pennyless episodes were sorely lacking and just pointed out how integral she is to the show.

      • Vinny


    • nunnya

      I agree that the Penny episodes were bland, but that may have been because they had to be written in response to her accident. I don’t think I want to see the show survive without Penny or Leonard.

  • p

    with the friends cast it made since given that they had fairly equal screen time, and likewise submitted for the same category at the emmys. With BBT, there’s a clear distinction between the main three, and the supporting two (who sometimes only have one scene per episode). However, Helberg and Nayyar should both have the same salary in my opinion

    • Adam


      • Agreed

        Agreed, but wish Helberg (and his mom) & Nayyar had as much screen time. I find it tooo much when the show is mainly about the other three. I think that will hurt the show (b’c it can be boring). Friends gave us equal variety, BBT needs that as well.

    • Lisa London


    • musica1

      I really hate Helberg’s character when it’s featured at all. He’s great as a side character, but as soon as they bring him to the front even a bit, the humor goes straight to the toilet.

  • Nicoleq

    Maybe if they’d let Raj get over his (at this point really annoying) fear of speaking in front of women, he’d have the same number of lines as Wolowicz instead of just whispering in his ear all the time. I mean, c’mon – it’s been 4 seasons. Time to give up the joke. Although even as it is, I can’t believe they won’t give him “Wolowicz” money. Not cool, man.

    • Brian

      Seriously. That is getting old real fast.

    • ajay c

      I agree…They have to give Raj the same as his Jewish best friend. That’s is just pure B.S that they would give him less. Raj may not be the lead, but he certainly should not be earning the least. He earned to have a good pay day coming.

    • Dan

      I so agree. Raj and Wolo are 3rd tier and should be paid the same. Penny and Leonard are 2nd tier and should be paid the same. Sheldon is 1st tier and should be paid the most.
      And YES! enough with the stupid ‘not able to talk to women’ joke. It got old after the first season. Now it sounds like a stale stand up comic’s joke and drags down each episode it is featured

    • Rob

      I could not agree more. It’s time to send Raj to the shrink and get him over his fear of talking to women.

      • Garry

        What if the shrink he schedules an appointment with turns out to be a woman?

    • bootsycolumbia

      I couldn’t agree more. I keep hoping that Raj will meet the right woman, and in an effort to win her over, he’ll finally confront his “selective mutism”.

  • wait, what?

    critical praise?? no way, friends was better than tbbt is today; it has his bumps. About the salary negotiation; Parsons does work harder, he has more screen time than the others – it’s only fair different salaries…

    • jen

      and parsons has won an emmy, for crying out loud. he SHOULD get more than the other main two, who imho, aren’t as good.

  • Daw Johnson

    Depends how you look at it. This show could go on without anyone but Parsons and Cuoco, so they should technically be making the most money. Galecki isn’t quite as valuable as a performer, but I’ll lump him into that category just because the dynamic of the show is built around his universe.

    The other two are great, but replaceable. You don’t necessarily look at them as “lesser,” so I could see the argument for paying them the same on that ground, but they’re also totally replaceable.

    • Liv

      I feel like Cuoco is totally replaceable. I think the two episodes without her this season were the best ones. I think she needs to be more of a background character. She is just so unlikeable.

      • J

        I dunno, Sheldon/Penny moments are solid gold. If anything, the one who generates the least laughs is Leonard.

      • Liv

        I think that they can keep Penny but outside of her interactions with Sheldon I don’t think she adds much. Especially lately, she has been mean and nasty to the boys instead of charmingly exasperated.

    • Zakry

      As much as I love Kelly Cuoco, when she broke her leg, we saw the show could go on without her fine.

      • andy

        honestly I realized she wasn’t appearing on the show till the third episode she missed, even though she’s the stronger femenine character on the show, she’s perfectly replaceble and I agree, she has been mean with the boys.

  • Jay

    Personally… I dont care how much these people make. The show is hilarious!!! just keep tham happy and keep it on the air

  • Thom

    They should either START or STOP paying the writers.

    I don’t know which one — whatever the reason the show has become painfully lousy this season.

    • jen

      agreed. seems all johnny galecki/leonard does these days is frown. his comedic delivery is terrible.

    • this season

      it’s b’c they have started focusing to much on Sheldon, the the other two. Go back to equal time!! Howard (Mom) & Raj needs more air time

      • musica1

        Also, I think Sheldon’s “girlfriend” was good for one episode, but is overkill in becoming a regular. The joke is tired already.

      • george

        maybe its cause leonard and penny really broke it off and decided to be just friends. I personally think they should have leonards mom fix raj’s porblem, Get her on a role with him and you have a great episode and a problem solved

  • cici217

    Parsons – $250k per ep
    Cuoco – $150k per ep
    The rest who cares. They can be replaced.

  • Mel

    I think howard’s mom should make the most.

    • Mom

      YES, she is my favorite too. I want more shows with her. These shows are some of the best, to me.

  • eden

    I’m confused. Was “Leblanc” money less than “Cox” money? Also, at its peak Friends could often demand 30+million viewers. BBT, at most, gets 15 million. I like BBT, but it is no Friends.

    • stephaniemcdonnellross@gmail.com

      Agreed. The BBT is a good show, but it is hardly “must see tv” like Friends!

      • Jay

        Its all opinion… IMO, Friends was NOT “must-see TV”.
        To me it was nothing more than a light hearted half hour comedy that was more amusing if you only half payed attention to it

    • Tarc

      Personally, LeBlanc and Cox money are the same, and nothing compared to Kudrow money, Perry money, or the peak, Aniston money.

      • Cris

        Just curious where Schwimmer Money falls in the grand scheme of things?

    • rerun

      Yeah, I didn’t like Friends but BBT is nowhere near the popularity. I mean none of them have even made a crappy movie yet.

      • me

        u didn’t like Friends? which planet do u hail from

    • JD

      The succes derived from 30 million viewers in the late 90’s pretty much equals 15 million now. They started at around 7 in season 1. All in all: BBT IS a modern day sitcom hit.

    • Liv

      The problem with that though is now there are literally hundreds upon hundreds of other channels that people could be watching. I feel like the 15 mil that BBT is bringing in is comparable to what friends was pulling in.

    • anya

      Friends had a bigger impact on pop culture then The Big Bang Theory has had. It was one of the most buzzed about shows on TV during its run. I don’t even think it’s fair to compare them as of yet. (No offense to BBT, which is a good show, but I’m just sayin.)

  • jess

    I always admired how the Friends cast banded together. They were the definition of a true ensemble. Jim Parsons is clearly the most recognized star, I would understand if he had been given the highest salary. I don’t think The Big Bang Theory is anywhere near the level Friends was. It’s a good show, but I usually wait to watch over the weekend. There is no way I am missing Community. In my opinion, Community is the best comedy on television.

    • Jamie

      I agree that Community is the best comedy on television. TBBT is good too, but Community is the best.

      • Liv

        I am torn if I agree. The thing that I love most about Community is that no matter how totally insane the story is, it’s so wonderfully done that I feel as if nothing is too crazy,

    • BigJ

      Every character was a novelty that has become a stereotype. None of them act, and the writing is stale. I suggest pay cuts to all involved.

      • Sue1

        Right, BigJ, and the ratings prove your point. Oh wait, they don’t. Yea yea, rating don’t mean anything…but actually they mean many many people like the show, even if you don’t.

    • AK

      Jim Parsons may have become the biggest star, but I never thought he’d be the one to break away and negotiate on his own. He just always seemed too nice to do that…

  • Stacey

    Bad example using the Friends situations. All six were clearly the same level in terms of characters. No character was above the other. Big Bang Theory is different. It’s clear Sheldon, Leonard and Penny are the leads with Howard and Raj supporting. While Howard and Raj are funny. I think one could leave and the show still succeeds. Jim, Johnny and Kaley deserved the same pay. I don’t think the other two necessary needs the same. They deserved more than they were getting for sure. But not the same…

    • Sue1

      I agree with you pretty much, but I don’t think the show would be as funny with the loss any of the characters, including Howard and Raj.

    • AK

      How is it a bad example? It may have been an ensemble, but for the middle chunk of its run it was totally “The Ross and Rachel Show”.

      • Susie

        Yeah, totally. Like when Phoebe had Ross’s babies. And when Chandler and Monica and Rachel got into a relationship.

  • Sam

    The Big Bang Theory is fine… but. It. Is. No. Friends. The very notion of that makes me want to vomit. Friends was groundbreaking, BBT is just a good spin on what’s already been done.

    • rerun

      Wait. Friends was groundbreaking? A bunch of good looking white people sitting around talking?

      • rerun

        Sorry, and David Schwimmer.

      • starbuckcubed

        @rerun both of your comments caused my first laugh out loud moment of the day.

        I loved Friends but in no way was it groundbreaking.

    • bkwrm752003

      How was it groundbreaking when Coupling came first and was much funnier?

      • bkwrm752003

        BTW, I meant the British one. Not the awful American one.

      • Kiki

        You’re joking, right? The British “Coupling” was an attempt to reproduce Friends’ success…

      • LoveJeffMurdock

        Coupling may have been an attempt to reproduce the success of Friends, but it succeeded, and well. It was amazing. Friends just didn’t have the humour that Coupling had.

      • AK

        You do know that the Brits didn’t do EVERYTHING first, right?

      • AE

        Friends debuted in 1994. Coupling (the British version) debuted in 2000.

      • uninformedLuddite

        In what way was coupling anything like friends. How can anyone in their right mind think for a second that there is any relationship between the two.

    • WTF?

      Oh please! Living Single was more groundbreaking than friggin’ Friends, and a hell of a lot funnier, too.

      • jake

        FRIENDS was the best comedy ever made — how many shows can you laugh out loud with every episode and I mean every episode. It’s the reason 30 million watched every week.

      • Garry

        The British “Coupling” was NOT based on “Friends,” it was based on creator/writer Steven Moffatt’s personal life. He has said that, if anything, he had “Seinfeld” more in mind than “Friends.”

    • Carm

      I think you might need to take a break from TV.

    • Timmy

      Friends was just a twist on Seinfeld. Both had a lot of their show take in an apartment friends gathered in and diner/coffee shop.

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