TV & money through the years -- A timeline of some of the biggest deals in television proves that entertainment is never cheap

By Joe Flint
February 19, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Perhaps money really is the root of all evil — after all, NBC did pay Paul Reiser $1 million an episode to keep Mad About You afloat. Here’s a historical look at some other jaw-dropping transactions that rocked the TV biz.

1948 CBS chairman William Paley spends $5 million luring Jack Benny, Amos ‘n’ Andy, Red Skelton, and Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy away from NBC.

1951 NBC gives Milton Berle a 30-year contract at $100,000 per year in return for 360 one-hour programs; Berle delivers by June 1956.

1962 Lucille Ball spends $2.5 million buying out ex-husband Desi Arnaz’s shares in their Desilu Productions, making her president and the highest-ranking woman TV exec.

1971 Cigarette advertising is banned on television and radio, costing the industry $230 million annually in ad revenues.

1974 NBC pays a then-record $10 million to Paramount Pictures to air The Godfather once during the November sweeps.

1976 ABC signs newscaster Barbara Walters to a record $1 million-a-year contract to coanchor the ABC Evening News.

1980 After three seasons, Three’s Company star Suzanne Somers demands a raise from $50,000 to $150,000 per episode. ABC balks and subsequently phases her out of the show.

1982 NBC strikes a deal with Paramount to pick up the low-rated Taxi from ABC. Although that show went belly-up within a year, NBC also got first dibs on the next show from producers Jim Burrows and Glen and Les Charles — a sitcom titled Cheers.

1986 All three networks change hands, with Larry Tisch acquiring a controlling interest in CBS for $800 million, GE buying NBC (and parent company RCA) for $6.4 billion, and Capital Cities taking over ABC for $3.5 billion. Less than 10 years later, Capital Cities would sell ABC to Disney for $19 billion and Tisch would hand off CBS to Westinghouse for $5.4 billion.

1987 ABC signs Hill Street Blues cocreator Steven Bochco to a landmark 10-series deal worth more than $40 million.

1993 Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Broadcasting stuns the industry by stealing the NFC football rights away from CBS for $1.58 billion. Four years later, CBS makes a $4 billion deal to swipe the AFC from NBC.

1997 NBC coughs up $600,000 per episode to each of Seinfeld‘s supporting cast members for the show’s last season. (Costar Jason Alexander later tells talk-show host Charlie Rose that the deal was a mistake for NBC and bad for the long-term future of the industry.)

1998 NBC agrees to pay Warner Bros. TV a record $13 million per episode to keep ER on its schedule.

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