Skip to main content
Home Asia Europe U.S. World Business Tech Science Entertainment Sport Travel Weather Specials Video I-Reports
U.S. News
Career Builder

What your TV favs would earn in the real world

By Meg Donohue
Adjust font size:
Decrease fontDecrease font
Enlarge fontEnlarge font

( -- Ever notice how most TV characters dress in upscale duds and live in either gorgeous Manhattan apartments or shiny suburban McMansions?

Do money trees grow in the evergreen yards of Wisteria Lane, or do those perfectly-coiffed prima donnas actually earn enough to support their luxe lifestyles?

And, though we don't see much of the personal lives of characters on shows like "Cold Case" and "Law & Order," one can't help but wonder how well those hard-working public servants are compensated for keeping the streets safe.

Here's a look at the salaries that some of your favorite TV characters would be making if they worked in the real world:

Pam Beesly, "The Office"

Receptionistexternal link

Real-life median salary: $23,120, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Although Pam is the object of her co-workers' affections, she can rest assured that the men who love her aren't gold diggers. Luckily, she lives in a small Pennsylvania town where her petite paycheck stretches a bit further than it would if she lived in, say, Manhattan.

Denny Crane, "Boston Legal"

Partner, Law Firmexternal link

Real-life median salary: $210,000, according to

Denny's eccentric habits don't put a dent in his income, which, as the founding partner of his law firm, is likely quite substantial. With an enlarged ego to match his puffed up paycheck, Denny spends his money on cigars, scotch and women.

Betty Suarez, "Ugly Betty"

Executive Assistantexternal link

Real-life median salary: $37,810, according to the BLS

As an assistant in a notoriously low-paying media niche (fashion magazines), it's possible that Betty is taking home much less than the average salary for assistants. These fashion editorial positions do often come with perks like clothing allowances, but it's clear Betty prefers ponchos to Prada.

Lynette Scavo, "Desperate Housewives"

Advertising Executiveexternal link

Real-life median salary: $50,000, according to

Lynette has a lot of work experience under her belt, so it's likely she makes more than the national median for advertising executives. But does she make enough to pay for a large Wisteria Lane home, four children and a husband who'd like to open a pizza parlor? Far less likely.

Dr. Meredith Grey, "Grey's Anatomy"

Surgical Residentexternal link

Real-life median salary: $37,000, according to an American Medical Association report

As one of the rare medical residents with free board (she lives in her mother's house), Meredith doesn't appear to have a lot of expenses beyond her ever-expanding tab at the local dive bar. And, with (possible) medical school loans to repay, that's a seriously good thing.

Jim, "According to Jim"

Owner, Construction Companyexternal link

Real-life median salary: $73,000 for a construction project manager, according to

As a business owner, Jim probably earns upward of the median salary for a construction project manager. Though he works hard, he gets the pleasure of being his own boss, and can crack jokes all the way to the bank.

Detective Lilly Rush, "Cold Case"

Police Detectiveexternal link

Real-life median salary: $44,000, according to

As a Philly homicide detective, Lilly's salary doesn't allow much room for luxuries. But then again, since Lilly's virtual travels take her only to the past (exploring long-unsolved crimes), she can afford to pack lightly.

Arthur Branch, "Law & Order"

District Attorneyexternal link

Real-life salary: The current New York County District Attorney makes $150,000 per year, according to New York magazine.

Arthur Branch has the final say on "Law & Order," and his six-figure salary means that he can afford to go out to a five-star meal at the end of a long day at the courthouse. But could he afford to own property in a city where the average price of an apartment is over $1 million? That's another story entirely.

Lorelai Gilmore, "Gilmore Girls"

Inn Owner

Real-life median salary: $47,420 for a lodging manager, according to the BLS

It's tough to guess the income of an inn owner in a fictional town, but the annual median salary for a lodging manager gives us a starting point for imagining Lorelai's paycheck. Since she doesn't pay for her daughter Rory's college tuition (Rory's newly rich dad covered that), most of Lorelai's income appears to fuel her caffeine addiction.

Meg Donohue is a writer and blogger for She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

© Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority
CNN TV How To Get CNN Partner Hotels Contact Us Ad Info About Us Preferences
© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
SERVICES » E-mail RSSRSS Feed PodcastsRadio News Icon CNN Mobile CNN Pipeline
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more