The new reality of Hollywood–the rich are getting richer while everyone else struggles–was underscored in an article in Variety about how a new California state law is driving up stars’ salaries on TV shows. The law, which went into effect this year, bars employers from asking potential hires what their previous salaries were, instead forcing them to come up with a salary based on their value and merit.
The shift is making a huge impact in television, where the long-standing process of determining someone’s fee was through the so-called quote system, whereby people were paid based on their quote, or what they had previously received.
The good news is that there is now more pay equity for certain demographics, including women and people of color, according to Grace Wu, executive VP of casting for NBC. Because there have historically been fewer roles for those categories and therefore fewer available data, salaries were not subject to the same competitive price wars among studios and producers. The new law, she told Variety, “has helped people that have been marginalized in the past.”
But overall equity in pay remains challenged by the bigger shift underway in Hollywood: the talent arms’ race that’s being driven by deep-pocketed tech companies like Netflix, Amazon, and now Apple and Facebook. As each builds up its original programming efforts and contributes to the TV bonanza otherwise known as Peak TV, they are wooing TV show runners, producers, and actors to their rosters with ever-escalating paydays. Over the last year, Netflix has shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars to make deals with top show runners Shonda Rhimes (Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy), Kenya Barris (Black-ish), and Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story).
As for actors, Variety reports that Apple is paying Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston about $1.1 million each per episode for their upcoming morning TV show dramedy. Amazon is paying Javier Bardem $1.2 million per episode for Amblin TV’s mini series about 16th-century explorer Hernán Cortés. And Julia Roberts is making $600,000 an episode for the new Amazon show Homecoming.
Fast Company recently reported that as TV budgets are driven up by these price wars, non-A-list talent is being squeezed. With less money available for names that aren’t on the top of the call sheet, producers are becoming more creative about how to make numbers work. Actors have accused Netflix of not making them series regulars–where the pay is much higher than being a daily or weekly player–despite the fact that they have appeared in the bulk of a season’s episodes. As a result, the entire Hollywood ecosystem is being affected and the so-called middle class–writers, character actors, and directors–is crumbling.
“Hollywood has bifurcated completely,” one literary manager told Fast Company. “The rich are getting richer. What seems like an endless supply of money is really for the premium people.”
To wit, Variety included paydays for Hollywood’s finest, which only reinforces this point:
—Kelly Clarkson: $560,000/episode for NBC’s The Voice
—Kevin Hart: $500,000/episode for CBS’s TKO
—Dwayne Johnson: $450,000/episode for NBC’s Titan Games
—John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf, and Sara Gilbert: $375,000/episode for ABC’s The Conners
—Drew Barrymore and James Cordon: $350,000/episode for CBS’s World’s Best
—Alec Baldwin: $300,000/episode for ABC’s Alec Baldwin Show
—Candace Bergen: $250,000/episode for the new Murphy Brown on CBS
—Sarah Silverman: $225,000/episode for Hulu’s I Love You, America
—Jennifer Garner: $150,000/episode for HBO’s Camping