Pop Culture

The true worth of TV stars: $1 million per episode? Get Ashton Kutcher a raise!

Adam Rose / Warner Bros / Today
Ashton Kutcher on "Two and a Half Men." According to a study by The Los Angeles Times, Kutcher makes only $1.16 per viewer, while Chelsea Handler makes $16.70 per viewer.

Chelsea Handler is the most overpaid celebrity on TV and Ashton Kutcher should be asking for a hefty raise, according to a semi-scientific study conducted by The Los Angeles Times.

The Times’ study divided the salaries of TV personalities by the average number of viewers their show attracts, ranking them according to how much money they make per viewer. Handler, who makes $12 million, attracts only 718,000 viewers on average, which works out to the comedienne earning an astonishing $16.70 for each viewer – the most of any TV personality.

While the study fails to account for the fact that some performers tape 200 or more episodes per year (Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show,” for example) or the importance of attracting a young demographic (we’ll give you that, Chelsea) or the fact that all salaries are unofficial and based on “agency sources and reported figures” as the Times concedes, the study nonetheless provides an interesting look into the rather incomprehensible, illogical world of TV.

According to the findings, it seems that Handler, David Letterman and Anderson Cooper are maximizing personal gain, rounding out the top three in most money per viewer; however, “Jersey Shore’s” Snooki, “Modern Family’s” Ty Burrell and “Two and a Half Men’s” Kutcher are giving their networks a real bang for their buck with some of the lowest per viewer earnings. Then again, it’s hard to think Burrell and Snooki’s million-dollar annual salaries are reason to groan. And while Kutcher pulls in only $1.16 per viewer, with a $17 million salary he ends up making about $1 million for each of his twenty-two minute episodes. All of a sudden, the floppy-haired star doesn’t seem so underpaid.

It really does seem impossible to gauge how much a star deserves though. “Judge Judy’s” Judith Sheindlin makes the most of any TV personality: $45 million annually. How's that work, you might ask? The supreme ease and profit in syndicating “Judge Judy” is probably the best answer. But other questions abound.

Why should Stephen Colbert earn only one-third of Jon Stewart’s salary for making essentially the same show? And how did Keith Olbermann make what the Times estimates to be $56 per viewer when helming “Countdown” on Al Gore’s Current TV?

Perhaps paychecks hinge less on economic sense and more on an entertainer’s “it” factor and potential drawing power. The Times notes that “intense competition makes network executives do increasingly desperate things.”

After all, Olbermann's short-lived gig pulled Current TV into the spotlight, Letterman has helped make CBS the most-watched network thanks in part to his show’s late-night domination, and Stewart pulls in youngsters and provides a widely watched platform for movie stars and authors alike to discuss their projects and crack a few jokes.

While we can roll our collective eyes at Chelsea Handler’s $16.70 per viewer salary for “Chelsea Lately,” perhaps someone over at E! knows exactly why she deserves so much. It just goes to further prove how complex the TV industry is. Either that, or Handler has one hell of an agent.

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