Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Highest-Paid TV Role Of The Last Decade Revealed

Television has enjoyed a profound renaissance through the 2010s, and the format itself has changed so radically, we now use the term "on the air" by cultural reflex rather than out of any actual truth — the same way we no longer actually "hang up" the phone. With all that change and growth has come bigger salaries for the brightest TV stars. Our television consumption culture has blurred so much with Hollywood's that TV personalities have turned into the kind of celebrity that mere decades before we reserved only for A-list movie stars. The top-earner of the decade certainly fits this bill in their own way, and enjoyed a bright spotlight there for a while – a spotlight in which we were also forced to learn about "tiger blood" and scandalous purchasing habits, unfortunately.

Yes, we're talking about Charlie Sheen, who was indeed the highest-paid TV actor of the 2010s. Sheen made a jaw-dropping $1.8 million per episode as the freewheeling and womanizing Charlie Harper on Two and a Half Men until being infamously fired in 2011

Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory made a lot of news when he negotiated himself into a high-paying contract a few years later, but at "just" $1 million an episode, it doesn't really even come close to Sheen's take-home. Why? Because Two and a Half Men was one of the biggest sitcoms on television, and Sheen was by far the biggest household name and viewer draw. When Sheen left in 2011, Two and a Half Men averaged almost 13 million viewers and was on par with The Big Bang's ratings. 2011 was eons ago vis-à-vis TV cultural memory – it's easy to forget just how popular Two and a Half Men was, and how negatively the show was affected once Sheen was kicked off. If money talks, Ashton Kutcher as a substitute for Sheen simply didn't translate en masse: the series' ratings plummeted in its post-Sheen era and the actor replacement essentially ruined the show.

The sneakiness of time and inflation

There's one little addendum to consider here before we let you depart onto the next bit of internet trivia ephemera. In 2019, two very late contenders appear to sweep the highest-paid TV actor trophy from Charlie Sheen's now-sober arms: Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, who were cast in the central roles on The Morning Show, one of the launch titles for Apple TV+.

Few other women rank above Aniston and Witherspoon as triple-A talent with both television and film credits behind them, and that naturally necessitates fat stacks of cash. Combine that with the ongoing debate within entertainment about the compensation of women in general, and the net result is even bigger stacks: both Aniston and Witherspoon command $2 million an episode for The Morning Show

That massive salary began at the end of the decade, however, and Sheen's was relevant at the beginning of it, so the jaws of currency inflation snatch this gender victory out of the ladies' hands. Once Sheen's salary is adjusted for 2019, he nudges just ahead of Aniston and Witherspoon at $2,005,000 per episode of Two and a Half Men. That said, we're not really inclined to call anybody a loser here for it.