Crime investigation pays.
The stars of CBS' forensics drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation should be far from deadbeats after receiving killer pay hikes.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, William Petersen, who plays tight-lipped crime-lab honcho Gil Grissom on the Thursday night hit, is pulling down $225,000-$250,000 an episode, up from the $100,000 he received last season, after the network decided to (quietly) take care of its top-rated cast.
And when we say "take care of," we mean money-wise--and toy-wise. (Last spring, the show's regulars each got a high-definition plasma screen TV, worth $20,000 a den-hogging unit, the paper says.)
Petersen's pay hike, which covers his duties both as an actor and producer, moves him into the upper-echelon ER ranks of Noah Wyle ($400,000 per, as of a TV Guide salary study last December).
CSI cohort Marg Helgenberger, as the steely Catherine Willows, also saw zeroes added to her pay stub, from $75,000 per episode last season to the current $150,000 per, according to the Reporter.
For those running out of fingers on which to tabulate, Petersen's annual take for a year's work on CSI (i.e., 23 episodes) should hit $5.2 million-$5.75 million; Helgenberger's haul, $3.45 million.
With her raise, Helgenberger now stands as one of TV's all-time highest-paid women in a drama series, topping the $100,000 an episode Gillian Anderson earned in her later years on The X-Files.
Gary Dourdan, George Eads and other unnamed CSI regulars also received "substantial" (but not specified) raises, the paper says.
None of this is to indicate that the CSIers are all about the cash. After all, if they'd really wanted to make boatloads of bills, the actors would have done a sitcom--a higher-profit, cheaper-to-produce "art" form in which Frasier's Kelsey Grammer can make $35.2 million a season (at $1.6 million at episode for 22 episodes), and the six friends of Friends can gross $22 million each (at $1 million an episode for 22 episodes).
As for CSI's payroll, no one with the power to cut the checks is commenting on the Reporter's report, but CBS' motives for across-the-board raises seem pretty clear: Keep 'em happy--and avoid a Rob Lowe-West Wing falling out.
CSI is the Eyeball's first hit drama since, arguably, the more heavenly days of Touched by an Angel. It is the network's first hip network drama hit since, arguably, forever.
Last week, the series was watched by 28.5 million people, besting its top time-slot rivals, NBC's 9-10 p.m. comedy block of Will & Grace (20.6 million) and freshman entry Good Morning, Miami (16 million).
In addition to threatening (and possibly ending) the Peacock's legendary Thursday night domination, CSI has flat-out replaced ER as TV's top-rated drama. (To be sure, ratings for the latter remain strong--and competitive. Last week's ER was watched by a non-sickly 25.1 million.)
CSI debuted on CBS in October 2000 (back when Petersen was making a mere $75,000 an episode, and Helgenberger a lowly $50,000). CBS cloned the series in the off-season, hoping to replicate its dry Las Vegas cases in a tropical clime with CSI: Miami.
So far, the plan has worked: the Floridian CSI, starring David Caruso and Kim Delaney, is a top 10 hit and the highest-rated new drama.
If the original CSI stars are feeling crowded by the upstart competition, they can take heart--and take solace in their big, fat wallets.