Bucking the trends
Economic times are tough, but many stars remain rich as well as famous, write Colin Vickery and Darren Devlyn
THE global financial crisis has hit the TV industry hard. Channel 10 has warned of a huge first-half earnings slump, So You Think You Can Dance judge Nigel Lythgoe has lost half his personal fortune, and Neighbours stalwart Ian Smith’s superannuation stash has taken an enormous hit at a most inopportune time — as he retires from the soap.
Networks are out to slash costs, so you can bet that as long as times are tough there will be some awkward contractual negotiations between stations and some of their stars.
Channel 9 has already axed Footy Show funnyman Trevor Marmalade, who was said to be earning about $600,000 a year.
The future is certain to bring more shows such as Channel 10’s Guerrilla Gardeners, featuring a low-paid cast of unknowns, and fewer shows such as Jamie Durie’s Outdoor Room, with its multi-million dollar price tag.
Some stars, however, are thriving despite the gloom.
The Working Dog team’s Thank God You’re Here was a ratings hit on Channel 10 and poached last December by Channel 7 in a deal worth about $1 million an episode.
In many cases, it’s those (such as Working Dog) who have their own production companies — packaging their shows rather than staying salaried employees of the networks — who are making the biggest bucks.
They include The Wiggles ($45 million a year), the producers of Hi-5 ($18 million), Working Dog ($ 15 million), Rove McManus ($3 million) and Kath & Kim’s Gina Riley and Jane Turner ($3 million). Chris Lilley ($2 million) is an upand-comer with his cut of mammoth DVD sales of Summer Heights High and We Can Be Heroes.
McManus, however, has scoffed at the notion he’s pocketing all of his quoted earnings.
McManus runs a production company, Roving Enterprises, that has employed up to 85 people, depending on how many shows are in production at the one time.
The issue of his earnings last year prompted him to say: ‘‘I think people sometimes get confused with how much comes into the company that gets put into projects and how much actually gets put into my bank account.’’
In individual terms, Eddie McGuire leads the pack in Australia with his $4 million annual salary, negotiated when he stepped down as Nine CEO. The pressure will be on for any new show he hosts (he has been linked to a 5.30pm news and magazine-style program) to be a ratings success.
The Footy Show’s Sam Newman had his contract renewed late last year for an estimated $3 million over three years. Other high earners who signed contracts in better times include Bert Newton ($800,000), Tracy Grimshaw ($ 700,000), Liz Hayes ($ 600,000), Peter Hitchener ($600,000), plus Peter Mitchell, Andrew O’Keefe, Garry Lyon and James Brayshaw (all $500,000plus).
Stars who will be looking forward to upcoming contract negotiations would have to include Erik Thomson, Rebecca Gibney and Michael Caton (from top-rating Packed to the Rafters), Jack Thompson ( Find My Family) and Shane Bourne ( City Homicide and Thank God You’re Here). Given their ratings success, they’re all worth $500,000-plus.
Nothing guarantees a jump in salary like a bidding war with a rival network. Today’s Karl Stefanovic’s salary doubled when Seven tried to poach him to host Today Tonight.
Stefanovic accepted a new contract at Nine, said to be worth about $500,000 a year. The deal allows him to stay with Today, but also host new show Random Acts of Kindness and file occasional stories for 60 Minutes.
Sunrise’s David Koch ($400,000) and Melissa Doyle ($350,000) might wish they were the subject of a bidding war.
Footy commentators haven’t had it so lucky. The AFL switch from Nine to Seven saw former big earners Dennis Cometti and Dermott Brereton, who had negotiated their original contracts at the height of the Nine- v-Ten bidding war, suffer significant cuts in their estimated $850,000 and $450,000 annual salaries.
As networks try to get leaner and meaner, certain stars are bound to come under the microscope.
Model Jennifer Hawkins’ Make Me a Supermodel was a ratings disappointment and her other show The Great Outdoors was axed. She makes an estimated $3.3 million from sponsorship deals as well as TV.
Seven might also be regretting the rush of blood that saw swimmer Stephanie Rice signed for a reported $800,000 a year.
Another group to prosper Aussie stars of US TV shows.
ANTHONY LaPaglia has an $8 million deal for Without a Trace, and his Aussie co-star Poppy Montgomery is on about $3 million. Then there’s Julian McMahon ($6.7 million), The Mentalist’s Simon Baker ($5 million), House star Jesse Spencer ($2.3 million), and Brothers & Sisters’ Rachel Griffiths ($2.2 million).
They pale though, against Oprah Winfrey ($300 million), Gordon Ramsay ($135 million,) Jamie Oliver ($90 million) and David Letterman ($45 million).