Charlie Sheen tops list of high-paid TV stars

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It really pays to work for CBS.

Actor Charlie Sheen smiles at the CBS summer press tour party at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, July 15, 2006. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

A pair of stars from two of the network’s top-rated programs rank as the two highest-paid actors on prime-time television, raking in well over $500,000 an episode each, according to a poll by TV Guide magazine released on Monday.

Charlie Sheen, who plays a wealthy, womanizing bachelor on the top-rated sitcom “Two and a Half Men,” made more than any other TV actor this year with earnings of $825,000 per episode, including money from his ownership rights in the show.

At the rate of 23 episodes per year, the typical number of shows broadcast each season for a comedy like “Two and a Half Men,” Sheen would be pocketing just under $20 million a year for a role that also earned him three Emmy nominations.

Trailing Sheen in the No. 2 spot on TV Guide’s list is fellow CBS star William Petersen, who takes home $600,000 an episode for portraying investigator Gil Grissom on the hit police drama “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

Petersen, who also serves as an executive producer on the series, plans to leave the show this coming season after the first 10 episodes. Still, his salary makes him the highest-paid actor in a prime-time drama series.

“The fact that (Sheen and Petersen) both happen to be on CBS is coincidental,” said TV Guide editor Craig Tomashoff. “They’re at the very top of their game and are the best at what they do. You’d expect them to be at the top of the scale.”

Among the top-paid women, Mariska Hargitay was No. 1 for TV drama, earning $400,000 an episode for her Emmy-winning role as a New York detective on NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” Cable network TNT’s “The Closer” star Kyra Sedgwick, also portraying a cop, earns a cool $275,000 per episode.

Daytime television and reality shows can pay handsomely, too, especially if you’re the queen of talk or the king of mean.

Oprah Winfrey, who was named 2008’s most powerful celebrity by Forbes magazine, earns $385 million annually for hosting her eponymous daytime talk show.

Simon Cowell, the sharp-tongued judge on the Fox network’s mega-hit talent show “American Idol,” earns $50 million per year, and CBS late-night host David Letterman has an annual salary of $32 million, according to TV Guide.

Finally, lackluster ratings didn’t keep CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric off the TV Guide list, as Couric takes in $15 million per year.

“Katie Couric’s contract with CBS is legendary, you’d expect to see her there (on the list),” Tomashoff said.

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Steve Gorman