Guest-starring on a TV show is a opportunity for an actor to build his resume. What a guest star is paid depends on which union governs the show. The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Screen Actors Guild are the unions that set performer rates for TV shows. Producers are more and more resistant to paying guest starring actors more than union scale. Actors whose work is well-recognized within the industry and/or who has a powerful agent, however, may be able to negotiate a higher rate.
Guest Star Role Defined
A guest star in a series is a character integral to the storyline of an episode. Guest stars typically get top-of-show billing, meaning their names appear during the opening credits of the program. For example, in a "Hawaii Five-O" episode about a murder and coverup, key suspects who are subject to interview by the detectives and/or who appear in court are episode guest stars. Guest stars may be heretofore unknown to television. Often, however, they are well-known within the TV, film or New York theater community. Episodic television is typically produced on a five-day schedule, so guest stars generally work at least five days, including shooting and rehearsal. Shooting may be in a studio or on location. Costuming, makeup, meals and breaks are provided according to union rules.
For dramatic programming (which, paradoxically, includes sitcoms) from November 2010-2011, the AFTRA day rate is $1,072, bringing the five-day guest star contract total to $5,360. For shows of 61 to 90 minutes, the rate per day is $1,308. Shows that run 91 to 120 minutes pay $1,578 per day.
For daytime soaps, termed "dramatic serials" by the union, rates skew downward. A one-hour network soap pays $913 per day. If the program is longer than one hour, the day rate is $1,163. If an actor is called to work an additional day, he will be paid $345 to work for 59 minutes or less. Otherwise, the rate will be $460 per hour.
The SAG rate schedule is a bit simpler. A guest star is considered a "major role" performer. For a half-hour show, as of July 2011, the rate is $4,538, which represents five times the ordinary day rate with a 10 percent surplus so that the actor can pay his agent's fee. An hourlong show pays $7,260.
Nondramatic programming, which category runs the gamut from "Survivor" to "Good Morning America," may be produced under an AFTRA contract. These shows may not include guest stars, but they do showcase guests. A one-time appearance on an hourlong AFTRA show in this category pays $1,031. If the show runs two hours, you'll get $1,571. Many nondramatic shows are not produced under union agreements.