House, Olivia Wilde

Adam Taylor/FOX

Saw the House premiere in which Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard are the only regulars who appear. Do the other castmembers get paid for episodes they aren't in?
—EK, Los Angeles, via the Answer B!tch inbox

Well, that depends on a few factors, including how big the show is, how famous the stars are, how famous the stars think they are, and the exact ball-size ratio of the show's producers vs. the stars' agents.

If that ratio favors the producers, then actors may not get paid for certain episodes in which they don't appear. In fact, the producers may try humiliating little tricks on the actors, too—tricks viewers can spot if they know where to look...

Typically, TV series actors are paid by "guarantee" agreements. On the first season of a show, producers guarantee each actor a certain number of episodes—usually a third of them, half or all. Actors are paid for those episodes, whether the producers actually put them in front of the camera or not. Big stars, or actors returning to successful series, often will ask to be guaranteed for all episodes.

Occasionally producers will want to film a special episode, a sparkly episode, something different or extra, maybe a prequel or, in the case of House, a stuntlike episode where many of the heavy-hitters are literally out of the picture.

In those cases, says former studio exec Marrissa O'Leary, the producers may approach other, nonincluded castmembers and negotiate to keep that special episode out of their pay guarantee. That way the producers don't have to pay, say, Olivia Wilde, lovely as she is, for an episode she's not in.

If producers have soured on a particular actor, and that actor has a guaranteed number of episodes, that's when the little pieces of torture and humiliation come into play. Remember, producers don't have to put actors in their guaranteed episodes if they don't want to. They just have to pay them.

But if the producers also don't want the actor to be happy, they may drag him or her onto an episode—costing the actor hours in the makeup chair and in the trailer—just to deliver a line or two.

"It's more demeaning to the actor to come in and work for a line or two," says O'Leary, now a talent manager, "because the actor isn't free to take jobs elsewhere."

So if you see a favorite actor delivering just one or two lines per episode, that may be what's up. That actor just might be a pompous—but generally well-paid—ass.

Seen this lately? If so, which actor do you think is getting played?


Catch up on your tube in our 2009 Fall TV Preview gallery.

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