Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and Kerry Washington Among Stars in the $1 Million an Episode Club
By Paige Gawley
Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images
More celebrities are joining the $1 million club!
In a new report from Variety, the outlet reveals how the A-list stars that have made the jump to TV have been able to cash in, something they attribute largely to the rise of streaming services.
Among those making $1 million per episode are Reese Witherspoon for both Apple TV+'s The Morning Show and Hulu's Little Fires Everywhere, Nicole Kidman in Hulu's Nine Perfect Strangers, Jeff Bridges in The Old Man on Hulu, and Steve Carell in Netflix's Space Force. In addition, Witherspoon's Little Fires co-star, Kerry Washington, and her Morning Show co-star, Jennifer Aniston, made the list.
Witherspoon and Kidman's TV stints initially started with less than half of their new pay, with the women making $350,000 for each episode of season one of Big Little Lies. They joined the $1 million club for season two of the HBO series, though, and have since maintained that rate for future projects. In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Witherspoon defended her acting salary.
"There seemed to be a resentment, as if we weren't worth it or it was bothersome, and I thought, 'Why is that bothersome?'" Witherspoon said. "I guarantee these companies are real smart, and if they agree to pay us, they're doing it for a reason. They probably had a lot of lawyers and a lot of business people decide on that number because they knew that they were going to make more than that back."
Additionally, Witherspoon questioned, "Does it bother people when Kobe Bryant or LeBron James make their contract?"
In the Variety report, Showtime Networks entertainment co-president Gary Levine said that the "dramatic salary inflation" is part of how new streaming services have plotted to "try to buy their way into the business." Previously, networks shelled out $1 million per episode only after a show had launched and been successful -- Friends, The Big Bang Theory, and Game of Thrones are examples -- but it's now a starting rate.
"It’s almost as if what they were really paying for was to launch the service," a studio president added of Apple's new streaming service.
"Apple started this whole nonsense, which is great for us, but it is outrageous," one agent agreed.
Another agent told the outlet that $1 million is hardly the cap to land top-tier talent, even speculating that stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt could rake in up to double that.
According to the outlet, the number is already climbing with some rumored projects, including a Chris Pratt show that would pay him $1.4 million an episode and a scripted take on Netflix's docu-series The Staircase from Harrison Ford that would pay the actor $1.2 million per episode.
Despite the rising cost of landing big stars, many in the industry told the outlet that this particular business model won't last.
"The fierce competition around talent and projects has created business models that I would posit aren’t really sustainable for volume and long term," Sandra Dewey, president of business operations and production at WarnerMedia/HBO Max, said. "I think there has to be a righting of the business ultimately."
"There’s a lot of money, which is distorting the business in the short term, and that’s not going to sustain itself," Dante Di Loreto, Fremantle president of scripted entertainment for North America, added. "At some point it’s going to tighten up. I think it’s already tightening up at certain streamers. Once we get through this particular frenzy, we’re going to see more of that."