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July 02, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

Are sitcom stars worth their high salaries?

You might say Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox Arquette, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer are laughing all the way to the bank. The stars of NBC’s ”Friends” have inked a ridiculously lucrative new deal to continue with their series. They join such sitcom stars as Kelsey Grammer, Ray Romano, and Drew Carey, who have all recently struck golden deals themselves. The question is: Are they worth it? We’ll take it on a case-by-case basis.

THE CAST OF ”FRIENDS”
Was the Peacock wise to pony up $1 million an episode each to bring the sextet of stars back for one more season? As Chandler might say, ”Could they BE any wiser?” Such a move proved a misstep for ”Mad About You” stars Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser a few seasons ago, but ”Friends” has undergone a surge both creatively (the potential Joey-Rachel romance has sparked the scripts) and commercially (drawing its highest ratings in five years). And with none of NBC’s new crop of sitcoms — the good (”Scrubs”), the surprisingly-not-bad (”Watching Ellie”), and the ugly (”Leap of Faith”) breaking out in the Nielsens, ”Friends” is Must-Have TV for NBC.
Are they worth it? Yes.

KELSEY GRAMMER
If somebody had told me back in 1984 when the actor joined ”Cheers” that he would someday become TV’s highest paid actor ever, I would’ve thought they were crazier than one of Dr. Crane’s patients. Grammer will receive $1.6 million an episode, topping the mark set by Jerry Seinfeld, Tim Allen, Paul Reiser, and Helen Hunt by roughly a half million a week. Why so much? Chalk it up to inflation and seniority. Yet even though NBC renewed ”Frasier” for three more seasons, the show is past its ratings and comic peak, and Grammer is less central to his show’s success than Romano and Carey, whose standup acts set their tone.
Is he worth it? No.

RAY ROMANO
Everybody might not love Raymond knowing that he’ll be making a fat $800,000 an episode for the next two years. He doesn’t seem like such an Everyman now, does he? Then again, ”Raymond” is coming off its highest rated season ever, and with the show going into syndication this fall, its popularity may not yet have crested. And when you consider the fact that he’s only making half what Grammer’s pulling in, this almost seems like a bargain. Almost.
Is he worth it? Yes

DREW CAREY
No one can say the blue-collar comic isn’t one of the hardest working men in show business. In addition to his self-titled laffer, he emcees ABC’s improv skitcom ”Whose Line is It Anyway?” But is it really wise to shell out $750,000 an episode to the star of a series that’s over the hill both creatively and commercially? ABC renewed ”Drew” for three more seasons, but no matter how many stunts the show pulls (live episodes, April Fool’s Day contests, etc.), it’ll still lose its slot to NBC’s ”The West Wing.”
Is he worth it? No.

How much do you think sitcom stars are worth?

type
TV Show
Genre
run date
09/22/94-05/06/04
Status
In Season
Cast
Charles Thomas Allen,
John Christopher Allen,
Helen Baxendale,
Eddie Cahill,
Cosimo Fusco,
Elliott Gould,
Jessica Hecht,
Mitchell Whitfield,
Jane Sibbett,
Lauren Tom,
James Michael Tyler,
Maggie Wheeler
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