Sometimes it pays to be the new guy. TV can't always offer hefty salaries to film stars who transition to the small screen unless, of course, your name is Ashton Kutcher, and you're replacing the industry's highest-paid actor. That's why Mr. Demi Moore is expected to command upwards of $1 million per episode when he takes over for Charlie Sheen on CBS' hit comedy Two and a Half Men this fall.
Fortunately for the networks, it doesn't take the promise of seven figures per episode to lure big names to prime time. The pool of talent was larger than ever this development season, mostly because the movie business has changed significantly in the past few years. ''There are no middle movies to do,'' says one TV studio topper. ''There are either giant tentpole or indie films. [That means] there are a lot of the guys who can't open a movie but would help make a movie a lot of money. So there are more film stars sniffing around.''
It also helped that many of the pilots that got picked up for fall Prime Suspect, Last Man Standing, and A Gifted Man among them were written with an older cast in mind, so there were plenty of opportunities for fortysomething leading men and ladies who were ready to take the leap. ''First, we had to get them interested,'' says the studio exec. ''They have to wrap their head around going to work every day for six years. But more and more [movie stars] are definitely heading to TV.''
And just because they don't score Kutcher money doesn't mean they're earning chump change. Based on industry estimates, here's a sampling of salaries for some of this season's high-profile TV recruits...
Ashton Kutcher, $1,000,000
He'll be paid about $1 million per episode of Men, including a stake in back-end profits.
Tim Allen, $225,000
The former Home Improvement star is now earning roughly $225,000 an episode to topline the family comedy Last Man Standing (opposite Nancy Travis) for ABC.
Jim Caviezel, $100,000
Good Lord, Jesus is now in prime time! The star of The Passion of the Christ is commanding $100,000 an episode on CBS' Person of Interest.
Patrick Wilson, $100,000+
The Little Children star is a prime example of a film actor who doesn't headline movies but always turns in strong performances. Now he's topping A Gifted Man (with Jennifer Ehle) and getting $100,000-plus an episode.
Maria Bello, $125,000
She launched her career on TV, but her run in films like A History of Violence helped her attract $125,000 an episode to do the Prime Suspect reboot for NBC.
Zooey Deschanel, $125,000
The gorgeous star of (500) Days of Summer will bank around $125,000 per episode on Fox's single-camera comedy New Girl.
Sarah Michelle Gellar, $90,000
Buffy's back! And she'll make $90,000 an episode on Ringer, which was developed by CBS but ended up on The CW.