Just like TV industry prognosticators predicted, Apple’s $1 billion push into the original TV space is already shifting the ground beneath some execs’ feet. Among the first to feel the vibrations is HBO, which just dished out a big pay raise to the stars of Big Little Lies—one that reportedly brings stars Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon into the ballpark of $1 million per episode.
Per The Hollywood Reporter, Witherspoon’s deal with Apple to star alongside Jennifer Aniston in a scripted series inspired by Brian Stelter’s morning TV tome Top of the Morning was a major source of leverage. T.H.R.’s sources place Witherspoon’s salary for that series around $1.25 million per episode, plus an executive producing fee and points on the drama’s backend—making her Big Little Lies Season 1 haul, estimated between $250,000 and $350,000, seem pretty paltry by comparison. The actresses’ new deals not only raise their per-episode Big Little Lies salaries to roughly $1 million, but also provide E.P. fees and backend points.
For the record, Casey Bloys isn’t sweating this; as HBO’s programming president told T.H.R., “It’s not a shock to anybody that having a second season of an ongoing series is easier to have with those deals in place. Every outlet has to make their own decisions about economics that make sense for them. I’m not going to shake my fist and say, ‘Darn it, Apple!’ If that’s what made sense for them for that show, God bless.”
Since HBO initially expected Big Little Lies to be a one-off limited series, no deals were in place for Season 2—leaving all of the actors’ options open. The show’s massive success, plus the negotiating power that came with Witherspoon’s new, lucrative Apple project, allowed the cast to secure hefty raises. Zoe Kravitz, who made $380,000 total for Season 1, will make $3 million in Season 2; Shailene Woodley will also see a big bump from her $1.7 million total salary for Season 1.
One word of caution for fans: don’t get your hopes up for a third season. As Bloys told T.H.R., “Everybody involved is so busy that it’s hard to imagine aligning everybody’s schedule again. That we were able to get Season 2 together is a small miracle.”