Who is the Highest Paid Actress in Television? 'Grey's Anatomy' Star Ellen Pompeo Earns $20 Million Salary

Emily Gaudette

The doctors on Grey's Anatomy may not be actual physicians, but learning what they're paid per episode might give you a heart attack.

On Wednesday, Ellen Pompeo, the star of ABC's medical drama, went public with her new $20 million annual salary, penning a passionate essay for The Hollywood Reporter. She credited series creator Shonda Rhimes as her inspiration for negotiating, which reflected her "fuckin' skill."

Pompeo's new salary ranks below the $41.5 million made by 2017's highest-paid actress, Modern Family's Sofia Vergara. Other relatively well-paid TV actresses include Kaley Cuoco on The Big Bang Theory ($26 million), Mariska Hargitay on Law and Order: SVU ($12.5 million), and Scandal's Kerry Washington ($11 million), the latter being another Shondaland actress.

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In her THR essay, Pompeo called Patrick Dempsey's 2015 exit from Grey's Anatomy a turning point in her career. "They could always use him as leverage against me—'We don't need you; we have Patrick'—which they did for years," Pompeo wrote. "There were many times where I reached out about joining together to negotiate, but he was never interested in that."

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Patrick Dempsey and Ellen Pompeo at the Shrine Auditorium on September 18, 2005 in Los Angeles, California, the same year 'Grey's Anatomy' began. Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

When Grey's Anatomy began in 2005, the show was centered on Pompeo and Dempsey as co-stars, and Pompeo took top billing once Dempsey left. In fact, Pompeo is one of only four lead actors who have been on the show each season since 2005.

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According to Pompeo, however, transitioning from a male and female lead to a single female lead was a lot more complicated than it might have seemed to Grey's Anatomy fans. The network wasn't confident that she could lead the show on her own, and ABC suggested replacement male leads for weeks.

"I was like, 'Are you people fucking nuts?'" Pompeo wrote. "'Why do you feel that you have to replace this person?' I couldn't believe how fast the studio and the network felt like they had to get a penis in there." The show did add a "penis" with Martin Henderson's introduction in Season 12, but his character was downgraded after, according to Pompeo, because the studio "didn't love the storyline."

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Shonda Rhimes (L) and actress Ellen Pompeo attend the celebration of ABC's TGIT Line-up held at Gracias Madre on September 26, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. Mark Davis / Getty Images

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Pompeo, 48, was refreshingly candid throughout her essay, but her pragmatic view of herself was, perhaps, her most stunning argument. Making more than $550,000 per episode is simply an assurance that she'll live comfortably after Grey's Anatomy inevitably ends.

"I make 24 episodes of TV a year, and as part of this deal, I cannot appear anywhere else," she recalled saying to Rhimes. "'So, it's got to be a ton of money.'" 

"I don't care about chasing roles. Plus, at my age, it's pretty unrealistic," Pompeo continued. "Not that I can't do a cool cable thing, but I'm not going to have this whole second life as a movie star. I'm not fuckin' Julia Roberts."

She used Jay Z lyrics to put her salary into perspective, as $20 million per year is chump change compared to what ABC makes off her performances. "[Jay Z] talks about how all the white guys own the record labels and they say to these artists, 'Oh, here's a $3 million advance,' while they're making billions. The artists are chasing Grammys and Lamborghinis, so they think, 'Oh yeah, I'm rich.' Meanwhile, Sony just made fucking $500 million, and they gave you $3 million and you think you're doing amazing."

Grey's Anatomy returns to finish its 14th season this Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

This article was first written by Newsweek

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