The Big Bonus Theory: Why big pay rises spell trouble for your favourite TV series


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The Independent Culture

The ink is just drying on the many zeros of their new pay deals, and an eighth series is soon to start filming, so The Big Bang Theory cast must be feeling pretty smug right now.

Lead cast members Jim Parsons (Sheldon), Johnny Galecki (Leonard) and Kaley Cuoco (Penny) take home around $1m (£600,000) each and have become the highest paid performers in TV, replacing Ashton Kutcher - a comparative pauper, who makes only $750,000 per episode of Two and a Half Men. The news is less good for the show’s estimated 58.1million viewers worldwide, however. Big cast pay rises can spell big trouble for the future of a TV show.

The highest paid stars in the US tend to hail from sitcoms, but in the UK it’s TV presenters who make the big bucks. But do Eamonn Holmes (estimated salary: £2.8m a year in 2012) and Jeremy Clarkson (£14m for 2012) run the risk of jeopardising the qualities that made them so successful in the first place? “I think all these announcements about high salaries alienate viewers,” mused former face of TV-am Nick Owen earlier this year. “Here's someone on a million pounds - you will enjoy them! Who can relate to a presenter like that?”

It’s not only the viewers feeling envious, it’s the other cast members too. Actors are often paid according to their perceived contribution to a show’s success, but this can change over time. Brat Pack heartthrob, Rob Lowe discovered as much when his West Wing co-stars Allison Janney (C.J. Cregg), Richard Schiff (Toby Ziegler) and Bradley Whitford (Josh Lyman) all got a pay rise and he didn’t. His cited this as a key reason for deciding to leaving the show in 2003.

If the Big Bang cast want to avoid such bad feeling, they could learn from tactics employed by a similar ensemble series. Friends really were friends, it seems. Jennifer Aniston and David Schwimmer initially earned the most, but they took a pay cut between the second and third seasons, enabling all six cast-members to bargain collectively. They also all entered the “supporting actor” categories in awards season and even insisted on appearing as a sixsome in magazine photo shoots. This ‘all for one and one for all’ strategy paid off. By series nine and ten, all six had joined the cast of Seinfeld in the Million Dollar Club - and that’s per episode, not per annum.

Could any performer in any show, however good, possibly deserve that kind of money? In the universe where Amy Childs from The Only Way is Essex makes 137 times the salary of a social worker, that’s the one question nobody’s asking - not even the people paying the wages. With Big Bang selling advertising airtime selling at $326,260 for 30 seconds, Warner Bros’ profits have hardly been dented.

Not game for a trip to Wales, Paddy?

Those bitter cynics who believe game shows might not be the best place to meet ‘the one’ have been silenced by Take Me Out’s first wedding. Former contestants Adele Vellacott and Dave Cobain tied the knot at Cwrt Bleddyn Hotel in Monmouthshire on Sunday and plan to honeymoon on the beautiful isle of Fernandos (otherwise known as Tenerife). It’s a good start for the show’s producers who must hope to compete with Blind Date’s record of three weddings over a 17-year run. Cilla Black attended each and every one, of course, but sadly Take Me Out presenter Paddy McGuinness won’t be able to say the same. According to the new Mrs Cobain “He joked about being invited to the wedding but we didn't think he'd want to come all the way to Wales.” No invite-y, no like-y.


Gomorrah, Sky Go

If you love a good mafia movie, but tire of Godfather cliches, Sky Atlantic’s new Italian import should currently be topping your hit list. It’s based on Roberto Saviano’s non-fiction book about the camorra, an organised crime syndicate operating out Naples’ crumbling tower blocks. The setting is jaw-dropping, but for once its gritty realism, not glamour which draws you in.

Horrible Histories: Frightful First World War, BBC iPlayer

Along with Brothers in Arms, the ITV documentary which also aired this week, this Horrible Histories special is the best of the First World War Centenary programming. Sketches include ‘Historical Masterchef’, in which soldier Ernie treats the judges to a trench speciality dish, Dog ‘n’ Maggot. This is as funny as you’d expect it to be, but surprisingly touching too.

The Great British Bake Off, BBC iPlayer

I wouldn’t want to over-egg the pudding (that can lead to the dreaded soggy-bottom), but this year’s baker’s dozen might just be the best batch yet. Early favourites include Stormin’ Norman, whose banter is almost a match for Mel and Sue and 17-year-old baking prodigy Martha. Just how does she know so much about Genoese sponge, when she hasn’t even sat her A-levels yet?

Secrets from the Clink, ITV 9pm

After eleven series, Who Do You Think You Are? can still rustle up a few surprises. In this much grimmer spin-off, the likes of Johnny Vegas, Mariella Frostrup and Len Goodman already know who they are: the descendants of 19th century criminals. It’s an interesting human angle on the Victorian prison system and Johnny Vegas gets one real shock: he discovers he’s related to a southerner.