Prime-Time Salary Wars

ByABC News
September 24, 2003, 3:55 PM

Sept. 26 -- Last weekend's Emmy Awards saw the annual gathering of TV's prettiest faces and dazzling figures. And to judge from published reports, figures don't get more dazzling than some of the stars' salaries.

Watch Chris Connelly's full report on 20/20 this Friday at 10 p.m.

According to published reports, Jane Kaczmarek of Malcolm in the Middle draws $150,000 an episode; Debra Messing and Eric McCormack of Will & Grace each pull in $250,000 an episode; and The West Wing's Martin Sheen is paid $300,000 an episode.

The cast of Friends and Ray Romano of Everybody Loves Raymond have been among the most notable combatants in Hollywood's favorite fall sport: the prime-time TV salary wars. The Friends cast emerged from their salary battle with deals for a reported $1.2 million an episode each. Romano won a $1.8 million per episode deal.

Even with their signed contracts already on file, some actors will wheel, deal, and even call in sick to force a studio or network to renegotiate. It's a technique common enough to warrant its own gag at the Emmys.

"It's something you can't do without in this town how to renegotiate while still under contract, said Brad Garret of Everybody Loves Raymond.

Greedy or Getting Their Fair Share?

Are the actors just getting their fair share, or are they being greedy?

Former NBC chief Warren Littlefield, who now oversees his new series Like Family on the WB, served on the salary wars front lines. Back in 1997, he battled it out with Seinfeld's supporting cast, then pulling in $150,000 an episode but looking to ride Jerry's coattails to a $1-million-a-show deal.

"We absolutely knew we needed that cast. We were not gonna go out and say, 'OK, here's Jerry and some new friends,' " Littlefield said.

Littlefield says the cast turned down an offer that included GE stock, before eventually settling for a still-sizable $600,000 an episode. Littlefield admits that it was difficult to accept paying such huge salaries to the sitcom cast. "Those actors have a bit of a swagger. And I'm sitting there going, 'Yeah, I guess I should be serving them breakfast.' "