What Does 'Big Bang Theory' Star Kaley Cuoco's Huge Raise Mean for TV's Leading Women?

Well, it happened. After days of hoping it wouldn't come to this, of wishing that somehow, everyone involved would just walk away, the worst has finally come to pass: the stars of The Big Bang Theory are now making $1 million per episode. And, thanks to bonuses, back-end profit, and other deals, the show's three lead actors — Jim Parsons, Kaley Cuoco, and Johnny Galecki — will make at least $90 million over the next few years. Each.

If those numbers seem unfathomably high, they should; no human being, unless they're curing cancer or stopping global warming, should earn that much money just for doing their job. Regardless of how talented an actor may be, starring in a 30-minute sitcom — an ensemble one, even more — does not require that much effort. It certainly does not require its actors to be given paychecks higher than the GDPs of some small countries.

Still, there is one benefit to the cast's giant raise. With her new salary, Kaley Cuoco has become one of the highest-paid women in television, a major deal in an industry that generally pays their female actors substantially less than their male actors. Even more, Cuoco's receiving the same bump in salary that her male co-stars are, and while it's not the first time that's happened within a TV cast, it's far from routine. As awful as the idea of any actor, male or female, getting paid that much money is, it's exciting to realize that progress is actually being made in terms of gender equality on television.

Need more proof? Just check out the salaries of these seven female TV stars, each of whom earn more money per episode than most people make all year. Kaley Cuoco, meet your competition:

Sofia Vergara

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The Modern Family star is currently the highest-paid actress on TV, although Cuoco's new contract could definitely change that. Last year, Vergara earned $30 million, thanks to a crazy-big salary, endorsement deals with brands like Covergirl and Diet Pepsi, and a clothing line.

Mariska Hargitay

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Hargitay earns $400,000-$500,000 per episode, and when a show's been on for 15 years, that money adds up fast. The Law and Order: SVU star puts much of her profits to good use, though, contributing often to her Joyful Heart Foundation and other organizations set on supporting survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault.

Lauren Graham

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From Parenthood, Graham earns $125,000 an episode, which might pale in comparison to the others on this list until you realize that she also has seven years of Gilmore Girls under her belt. This is one actress who's certainly not hurting.

Ellen Pompeo

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Ten years of playing disaster-prone Meredith Grey must be exhausting, but I imagine it's all worth it when you come home with a $350,000 paycheck each episode, plus much more from syndication. Pompeo's lesser-making castmates may have left for other projects, but with a salary like that, it's no wonder that the actress has stayed on Grey's Anatomy for as long as she has.

Amy Poehler

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$200,000 an episode. Several films out in theaters or in the works. A memoir coming out this fall. A multi-network producing deal. That's a whole lot of money to spend on waffles.

Emily Deschanel

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Zooey's not exactly doing badly, but it's her sister Emily who's raking in the major money. The Bones star makes $250,000 an episode, and this fall, her FOX drama will enter its 10th season. It's easy to forget about the show when flashier, more popular series get far more promotion, but with a salary like that, it's clear that Bones, and its stars, are doing just fine.

Julie Kavner

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Want to make a ton of money? Get a job voicing a character on an animated TV show and stay there for the next few decades. Kavner, known as Marge on The Simpsons, makes $300,000 per episode. The Simpsons premiered in 1989. You do the math.

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