When it comes time for raises, studios must decide what their stars are really worth.

By Lynette Rice
December 03, 2010 at 05:00 AM EST

If The Big Bang Theory‘s viewers had any say in Kunal Nayyar‘s pay, fan favorite Raj Koothrappali would have plenty of extra cash for sweater-vests. But viewer sentiment seems to have little to no bearing on salary renegotiations. At press time, Nayyar was the only cast member of Theory — now in its fourth season — who had yet to score a raise. (As is typical for shows that make it to a third season, the actors began pushing for more dough last year.) In September, stars Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki, and Kaley Cuoco each squeezed roughly $140,000 more per episode out of Theory‘s studio, Warner Bros. TV, to earn roughly $200,000 per show, while Simon Helberg jumped from $40,000 to $100,000-plus per episode just before Thanksgiving. But it doesn’t look as if Nayyar, who takes home a reported $25,000 per episode, will get that same amount for playing a chick-fearing astrophysicist. Theory is a time-slot winner, and more important, it just landed a staggering $1.5 million-per-episode syndication deal. So why not spread the wealth to Nayyar? What decides an actor’s worth, anyway?

”It is somewhat formulaic,” explains one studio topper. ”You look at the [similar shows] within the industry and then you tier your cast. You ask yourself, ‘Who can you lose?”’ Relax, Raj lovers: Insiders say a deal is imminent. But the producers must have had a dilly of a time putting a value on a character who, while popular with viewers, doesn’t really talk that much. Twentieth Century Fox TV could face a similar challenge next season when the stars of Modern Family, another hit ensemble comedy, will likely jockey for raises in their third year. (How’d you like to be the one to decide whether Julie Bowen deserves to make more than Sofia Vergara?) Lost in all of this is the question of whether any actor is entitled to an early raise in the first place. Network stars are generally locked into six-year deals before their shows begin, so the suits renegotiate out of the goodness of their hearts. Still, there’s always someone who’s unhappy. (Perhaps that’s why the cast of Friends famously banded together to negotiate as a group.) ”I’ve yet to find an actor who says it’s fair,” the studio topper says. ”They always want more.”