TV’s Ad Problem: Top Actors Are Grossly Overpaid


The world – a very small part of it, at least – is agog this week as the television behemoths spend untold as-yet unearned dollars trying to entice advertisers to continue ‘business as usual’ – spending obscene billions of dollars to advertise products that, sadly, all too often provide far less than they offer. As do (most of) the television shows they advertise on.

For the second or third year running, both advertisers and show producers – as well as the networks and indies that will air those shows – are bathroom-visiting scared, because more than ever, viewers are able to by-pass traditional commercials as they watch what they want to when they want to, zooming through commercial breaks as they do so.

The ‘industry’ – all the above named working in concert – are toying with a model that would probably so piss off viewers that they’d give up on some shows they’d really like to watch. That model would enable advertisers to sponsor ‘bits’ built into shows, supposedly made to seem to have some relevance to them, to reduce the number of advertising breaks yet still get advertising messages to the madding crowds who, cold drinks and popcorn in reach (or not!), do their best night after night to test the long-term reliability of their couches or lounge chairs.

Amazingly, the potential advertisers and their agencies who are attending lavish, star-studded  presentations and parties in New York City this week seem to be unaware of the concept of almost-ad-free ‘streaming’ as offered by Netflix and others.

That is one of two things that is killing the ‘traditional’ TV role in U.S. society. The other is the totally outrageous sums being offered and paid to principal actors.

I watch a select few shows (most) every week – being able, somehow, to find better things to do with my time.  Many of them are Dick Wolf’s, shows that are, as he said in a recent interview, “intended to be able to go on for [many] years],” without a lot of fine-tuning and window-dressing.

One of Wolf’s most successful-ever shows is Law And & Order/SVU, recently renewed for a 16th year. It’s leading light, Mariska Hargitey, rakes in at least $400,000 for each episode – plus residuals on most if not all previous shows. So, her base pay works out to $8.8 million per year, according to! And amazingly, ten actors are paid more on a per-episode or annual basis, with the top TV earner, according to this accounting, being Judge Judy, who pulls down a cool $47 million a year!

I often wonder how Hargitey maintains her sanity as she’s struggled through being held captive, nearly killed (in numerous ways) too many times to count and, perhaps worst of all, having to confront, in her scripts, the worst-imaginable (and sometimes unimaginable) evils of adults who abuse other adults and, the very worst of all, the scum who abuse children.

SVU, as the show is commonly called, has an amazing ability to present, on sadly too many occasions, stories based on something that ‘just happened’ – within a few weeks of an episode’s initial airing.

It is a brilliantly conceived, amazingly well-acted show.

But $400 thousand an episode? Is that really necessary?

If television and its advertisers want to take a serious step toward solving a problem plaguing both of them, they would trim performers’ salaries back to something closer to a ‘reasonable’ level. Say Hargitey was cut to $125 thousand per episode. That’s still something like $4.4 million per year – for roughly half a year of work! Is that really necessary???

Ultimately, advertisers are at fault, because they accept the outrageous rates set by networks and, increasingly, independent channels.

Let’s face it, the public is going to continue to gravitate toward the watch-when-you-want model, both because that fits their lifestyles and because they are sick and tired of being constantly being bombarded by too-loud commercials. (And why that issue has never been addressed by the FCC is a criminal-level mystery!)

Enough is enough!


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