How Much Money Would These 13 TV Characters Make in the Real World
Anyone who’s pondered how Carrie Bradshaw could afford all those Manolos and cocktails on a writer’s salary or how a barista like Rachel Green could make rent on a spacious NYC loft knows TV character salaries aren’t always in line with reality. Sex and the City’s Carrie, who works as a newspaper columnist, might earn as little as $40,000 per year today, the average yearly earnings for a staff writer, according to Payscale. On the early seasons of Friends, Rachel was probably making minimum wage as a barista at Central Perk ($4.25 per hour in 1994, when the show premiered).
Other shows do a better job of matching a character’s day-to-day life with their actual job. Homer Simpson probably makes about $37,100 as a nuclear power plant safety inspector, according to Glassdoor, which used its database of salary information to figure out the annual earnings of more than a dozen fictional characters. Homer’s salary seems pretty much in line with his family’s lifestyle on the bottom edge of the middle class.
Curious about TV character salaries on your favorite shows? Here’s how much 13 of your favorite television characters would take home annually, according to Glassdoor.
1. Sheldon Lee Cooper, The Big Bang Theory
Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) might be lacking in social graces but that doesn’t prevent him from bringing home a hefty salary from his job at CalTech. Physicists earn a median salary of $105,290, according to Glassdoor. Plus, he lives with a roommate, so he’s probably able to bank a significant chunk of his paycheck.
2. Joyce Byers, Stranger Things
At one point during an episode of Netflix’s hit show Stranger Things, frantic mom Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) has to beg her boss at the local general store for an advance on her paycheck. It’s hardly surprising she’s struggling financially, considering she’s a single parent likely working for minimum wage. Today, her job as a retail clerk would net her an average salary of $18,560. In 1983, around the time Stranger Things is set, retail workers like Joyce earned an average of $201 per week, or about $10,000 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
3. Michael Scott, The Office
As the regional sales manager for Dunder Mifflin, Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) probably makes about $105,920 per year, according to Glassdoor. But despite his six-figure earnings, Michael constantly seems to be in money trouble, perhaps because he falls for Nigerian email scams and thinks you should spend three-years salary on an engagement ring. At one point, his financial problems are so bad he actually declares bankruptcy, though he’s a little fuzzy on how that process actually works.
4. Sookie St. James, Gilmore Girls
The Gilmore Girls revival hits Netflix November 25, giving fans the chance to find out what’s happened to Rory, Lorelai, and their Stars Hollow friends, including the loveable Sookie St. James (Melissa McCarthy). The professional chef probably earns about $45,720 per year, first as a chef at the Independence Inn and later as the chef and co-owner of the Dragonfly Inn.
5. Mitchell Pritchett, Modern Family
The Modern Family dad practices law in Los Angeles, where lawyers make an average of $94,271 per year. That’s actually slightly less than the national average salary for lawyers of $106,148. Both numbers are dwarfed by the $175,000 Jesse Tyler Ferguson, the actor who plays Mitchell, makes per episode of the popular sitcom.
6. Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation
The deputy director of the Pawnee City Department of Parks and Recreation should earn about $117,537 per year, the national average for people with the “deputy director” title. That’s a pretty impressive salary, especially for a small city in Indiana, a state where the average worker earns $42,070 annually. In the series finale, we learn that Leslie (Amy Poehler) eventually becomes governor of Indiana, a job that likely involved a pay cut. Current Indiana governor Mike Pence earns $111,688 per year.
7. Rick Grimes, The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead’s Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) isn’t pulling down much of a salary leading his ragtag group of survivors against gangs of roving zombies. (Money, it turns out, is pretty useless in a post-apocalyptic world; katana skills, however, are priceless) But before the world went to hell in a hand basket, Rick was a sheriff’s deputy, a job that should have earned him a salary of $45,041 per year.
8. Ross Geller, Friends
Unlike some of his friends, Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) actually has a job that might allow him to live in an expansive New York City apartment. At the beginning of the show, he’s a paleontologist working at the fictional New York Museum of Prehistoric History. Later, he starts working as a professor at NYU, a job with an average salary of $114,134 per year.
9. Hannah Horvath, Girls
The self-absorbed Hannah (Lena Dunham) on Girls has struggled to find her path in life since the show’s premiere, when her parents finally cut the financial cord. Over several seasons, she worked as a secretary, barista, and as a freelance writer before finally landing a position as a staff writer at GQ. The staff writer position probably came with a salary of about $49,679, but the job doesn’t last long. Eventually, she quits and decides to go back to school for her MFA (spoiler: She quits that too).
10. Walter White, Breaking Bad
A cancer diagnosis and overwhelming financial pressures helped turn mild-mannered teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) into a drug kingpin. He probably earned about $47,492 per year explaining basic chemistry concepts to high school kids, a fraction of what he took home manufacturing and selling meth. The character claimed to have earned $80 million in one year in the drug trade, which experts say isn’t that far off from reality.
11. Nick Miller, New Girl
Nick (Jake Johnson), a law school dropout turned bartender, earns about $33,000 per year slinging drinks. That’s hardly enough to afford a room in a stylish loft in downtown L.A., but this is television, after all. Perhaps his roommates Jess (a teacher) and Schmidt (a marketing associate), are covering more than their fair share of the rent?
12. Danny Tanner, Full House
Today, single dad Danny Tanner (Bob Saget) would make $50,707 per year as a broadcast journalist. As co-host of Wake Up, San Francisco, one of TV’s favorite fathers isn’t bringing home the big bucks, but at least his friend and brother-and-law are available to provide free childcare. But even with the bargain-priced babysitting, the Tanner family would likely be priced out of San Francisco these days. Their Victorian home recently popped up on the rental market, going for a $13,950 per month – just over a quarter of dad Danny’s annual salary.
13. Cookie Lyon, Empire
As the head honcho of Empire Entertainment (a job she shares with ex-husband Luscious, played by Terrence Howard) Cookie Lyon (Taraji P. Henson) would bring home roughly $177,800, the average salary for a CEO, according to Glassdoor. But the Empire character’s paycheck is likely much larger, especially since the ruthless Cookie is unlikely to settle for such a relatively modest salary. Record company execs make anywhere from $750,000 to $16 million per year, depending on the size of the company they run, per Billboard. Vanity Fair estimates Luscious’ total net worth at $630 million, and Cookie may not be far behind.