The 20 Highest Paid Actresses on TV in 2012

The 20 Highest Paid Actresses on TV in 2012

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We’ve done a male version of this list so naturally it’s time for the females.  Which actresses are the highest paid on the small screen right now? This list aims to find out. This takes into account total earnings from the year, so it can include current payment for shows, rerun syndication payment, advertising revenue or outside income (such as restaurant ownership or money generated from a fashion line). So if you’re confused about who is where, that might explain it.

It is sad though, that overall this list has lower numbers on it than the male one. Hollywood needs make things even for once.  You’ll also notice that there’s a few reality stars on this list.  The truth is that payment for reality TV “stars” is going up.  Especially for the ones who have created an empire around their “brand”.

Anyway, on with the list…

Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images

kerry washington

Kerry Washington – $3M

The Scandal actress has allowed her show to be a big hit for ABC, and she’s the first African-American actress to land a lead in a drama this big since the ’70s. As Olivia Pope, she’s become one of the most fearsome women on TV, and now is starting to acquire a paycheck to match. Expect it to increase if Scandal continues to remain popular, which given the trajectory of the show, seems exceedingly likely.

Photo by Christopher Polk / Getty

mindy kaling

Mindy Kaling – $4M

Kaling has found a devoted niche audience for her comedy The Mindy Project, which has become a staple on FOX despite relatively low ratings for the network. Kaling has also found success outside of television with a best selling book, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?” which adds quite a sum to her earning total for the year. Kaling was a staple of The Office for years, but has really branched out to find success on her own as of late.

Photo by Frederick M. Brown / Stringer

whitney cummings

Whitney Cummings – $5M

You may be surprised to see Cummings on this list, given that her own show, Whitney, failed rather spectacularly when it was on NBC. But rather her earnings come from her role co-creating the CBS hit Two Broke Girls. That show continues to put up incredibly solid ratings, and Cumming has a paycheck to match as a result. She may try to keep creating shows like that, or head back to acting, and really can do whatever she wants given her past success.

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Courtney Cox – $5M

The star of Cougar Town earns about $200K an episode for that show, which really demonstrates her star power long after Friends is behind her. Cox also earns residuals from that show, and has endorsement deals with products like Pantene. She’s still a viable force in television both onscreen, and on paper.

Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for SELF Magazine

zooey deschanel

Zooey Deschanel – $6M

Deschanel has come to TV in recent years with New Girl, as show that maybe can’t exactly be described as a hit, but has been a consistent enough performer for FOX to want to keep it around year after year. Deschanel is joined by a talented cast, and the fourth season of New Girl will begin this year. Deschanel also earns money from her websites, In addition, Deschanel has several endorsement deals that pad her earnings as well.

Photo by Ben Gabbe / Stringer

lena dunham

Lena Dunham – $6M

Dunham has finally had her work recognized by HBO, and has received a paycheck bump as Girls continues to be a hit for her. She now has a six year contract for the show, where she reportedly earns $150,000 an episode. On top of this, she recently secured a $3.5 million book deal from Random House, which earns her a spot on this list. Expect to see Dunham in more film roles soon as well, as she’s becoming quite the sought after property, as are the other actresses on her show.

Photo by Michael Buckner / Getty

Ghost Ship Premiere

Julianna Margulies – $7M

Often called the best show on TV, even in a supposed golden era of television, Margulies is the heart and soul of The Good Wife, and remains one of the highest paid actresses on TV. The show has just gotten huge syndication deals with Amazon, Hulu and others, and there’s no end in sight. Add in a few endorsement deals, and Margulies is making quite a good sum. The Good Wife seems like it could last forever, and it just well might if Margulies agrees to stay on board indefinitely.

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amy poehler2

Amy Poehler – $7M

Poehler launches onto this list with Parks and Recreation being the highest rated comedy on NBC (even if that isn’t saying all that much). The show was renewed for one more final season that will air some time within the next year. On top of that, Poehler recently secured a million dollar book deal that will raise her earnings ever further. There’s no telling how the final season of Parks will do ratings-wise, but they’re given free license to do more or less anything, and Poehler will have her pick of projects when it’s over.

Photo by Ilya S. Savenok / Stringer

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Alyson Hannigan – $7M

Hannigan is high up on the charts here due to some last minute negotiations for the finale season of How I Met Your Mother. The show was a huge hit for CBS, and allowed Hannigan and other cast members to bargain for a big $300,000 an episode salary. She may not appear on this list next year due to the show being off the air, but she made out like a bandit before it closed its curtains. Hannigan has come a long way from the American Pie series, and remains one of Hollywood’s best comic actresses.

Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images For Entertainment Industry Foundation

cobie smulders

Cobie Smulders – $9M

Smulders is yet another How I Met Your Mother cast member who benefited from the negotiations the same way Hannigan did. But why is she $2M ahead?  It likely has something to do with endorsement deals, and also her roles in The Avengers, Captain America: Winter Soldier and even Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. Surely there are a number of high profile projects in her future, outside of just the Marvel universe, but How I Met Your Mother is obviously a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Photo by Kevin Winter / Getty

ellen pompeo2

Ellen Pompeo – $10M

It may surprise some people to realize that Grey’s Anatomy is still on and going strong, but as a result Pompeo has rocketed up the earnings charts as the star of the show. She earns a fantastic $350,000 an episode, and given how many episodes are in a season, that tens to add up rather quickly. Her earnings are completely devoid of any endorsement deals as well, which makes her totals even more impressive. Grey’s may not last forever, but Pompeo is getting paid while she can.

Photo by Christopher Polk / Getty

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Melissa McCarthy – $10M

Melissa McCarthy may be cheating a bit here, because even though she’s on TV with her hit show Mike and Molly, the vast majority of her earnings come from her film roles. In the past year or two, she’s had big hits in the form of Identity Thief, The Heat, and more recently, Tammy, which grossed fairly big on a small budget. McCarthy has done well to expand into guiding her own career rather than relying entirely on others to do it for her, and it’s paid off in a big way.

Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images


Kim, Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian – $10M

The three sisters have all been rolled up together here, and their ventures include their infamous reality show, and also a host of endorsement deals and clothing lines. Even if Kim is the more prominent of the three, they claim that they split all their Kardashian earnings equally among them. Kim may end up splitting from the pack however, as she just released a new iPhone game that is tearing up the charts, and reportedly netting her $85M personally.

Photo by Astrid Stawiarz / Stringer


Bethenny Frankel – $10M

It may surprise some to see a Real Housewife this far up the list, but Frankel isn’t here because of her time on that show. Rather, she’s evolved into an incredibly businesswoman, and her Skinny Girl line of products in particular has been a huge moneymaker for her over the past few years. It was recently acquired by Beam, and netted her a big payday. Additionally, Bethenny now has her own talk show, where she joins the ranks of so many other personalities before her. Hopefully it will be a success for her.

Photo by Mike Coppola / Staff

tina fey

Tina Fey – $10M

Yet another actor/writer/producer with ten million in earnings on this list, Tina Fey found success as 30 Rock wrapped up a few years ago, and her projects since have been successful. She also has a best-selling book to add to her total, and I expect to see her appearing on this list for some time to come. She’s one of the funniest women in Hollywood, and she’ll definitely have all the film and TV work she can handle, whether as a writer, producer or actress.

Photo by Monica Schipper / Stringer

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Mariska Hargitay – $11M

Law and Order: SVU continues to be a huge draw for CBS, and so its only fitting that its star is one of the highest paid actresses on TV. The show has been on for well over a decade and a half now, and Hargitay’s paychecks have allowed her to form her own charity that aims to prevent and help treat childhood abuse. Hargitay is as generous in real life as her character is tough on Law and Order: SVU.

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Kaley Cuoco – $11M

Cuoco is the most prominent female star on The Big Bang Theory, and earns a colossal amount of money as a result. The $11M figure seen here is based on her payment of $300,000 an episode which she’s been receiving for the show, but it does not take into account the fact that she and the other two principle cast members have just renegotiated their contracts for $1M an episode. Expect to see her with a much larger number next to her name at this time next year.

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

sofia vergara2

Sofia Vergara – $30M

Right now the crown is currently resting on Sofia Vergara’s head, however, as the Modern Family actress is by far the highest paid woman on TV. Yes, she makes a good deal of money starring on the hit ABC show, but Vergara’s wealth is mainly due to a huge number of endorsement deals, as she has ad campaigns set up with Pepsi, Covergirl, Kmart and many others. She’s an actress who really knows how to make the most of her brand, and has shown she’s business savvy, not just a great actress.

Photo by Jason Merritt / Getty

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