Ashton Kutcher, the new star of the hit comedy series Two and Half Men, replaced Charlie Sheen -- who left the same show in 2011 -- as the best paid actor on American television.
His US$700,000 per episode deal pales in comparison to his predecessor's million-dollar contract, but it's enough to nudge him to the top.
The actor with the second-best deal, Jon Cryer, appears in the same CBS series and earns US$600,000 per episode. Mark Harmon, from NCIS, the most popular show on US television, racks in US$500,000 per episode, which makes him the third biggest earner.
The void left by Hugh Laurie (House) and the cast of Desperate Housewives propelled Mariska Hargitay (Law and Order) towards the head of the pack with US$385,000 per show. 30 Rock's Tina Fey and the stars of Grey's Anatomy Ellen Pompeo, Patrick Dempsey and Sandra Oh come next with their US$350,000 deals.
Simon Baker (The Mentalist) and Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory) follow with US$300,000 deals, which puts them ahead of Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Jon Hamm (Mad Men) and Ted Danson (CSI) with earnings per episode going from US$295,000 to US$225,000. Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother) gets US$210,000.
TV actors also hit by recession
US publication TV Guide, which drew up this list based on the data provided by the actors' agents and the heads of networks and TV studios, noticed a dramatic drop in wages over the past few years. According to TV Guide, incoming actors for new TV shows can expect average earnings of US$30,000 per episode. That's roughly what Stephen Amell will be paid for the upcoming CW series Arrow.
Only the most bankable stars, such as Hollywood transplants, can hope to fetch higher figures. Kevin Bacon will pocket $175,000 for each episode of The Following, which will start airing on Fox early in 2013, and CBS will shell out US$125,000 per episode to Lucy Liu for her role in Elementary.
Last season, Jeff Daniels successfully negotiated a US$150,000 deal for HBO's The Newsroom, Claire Danes earned US$110,000 for Homeland and Zooey Deschanel was paid US$95,000 per episode for The New Girl. To put these figures in perspective, Lea Michele gets US$75,000 per episode for the hit TV series Glee, with a fourth season about to start.