By Scott Collins
LOS ANGELES (The Hollywood Reporter) --- The cast of CBS' hit "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" has discovered that crime does pay, after all.
Recognizing the show's value, especially in its ultracompetitive 9 p.m. Thursday slot, CBS during the summer quietly doubled the salaries of the show's two stars, William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger, and hiked pay for other key cast members as well, sources said.
Petersen, who plays quirky investigator Gil Grissom, last season made about $100,000 per episode; he now earns $225,000-$250,000 per episode, including a producer's fee and advances against his profit participation, the sources said.
Helgenberger, who plays Catherine Willows, does not have a back-end deal or earn a producer's fee, according to sources, but her salary doubled this season to $150,000 per episode.
The forensic-science drama has become one of the biggest hits on television, last week drawing a series record of 30.5 million viewers for the third-season premiere. Even summer repeats of "CSI" drew top ratings for the network.
"CSI," produced by CBS Prods. and Alliance Atlantis in association with Jerry Bruckheimer, airs 23 episodes per season.
Other cast members, including Gary Dourdan and George Eads, are believed to have gotten substantial raises as well, though they do not command nearly the salaries that Petersen and Helgenberger do.
Petersen is repped by UTA, Helgenberger by ICM.
A CBS spokesman declined comment, as did a spokeswoman for Alliance Atlantis. "CSI" co-executive producer Jonathan Littman, head of TV at Bruckheimer Films, did not return a call by press time.
Even after the raises, the "CSI" salaries do not approach those for some other popular series. The six principal cast members of NBC's "Friends" each earn $1 million per episode. "Frasier" star Kelsey Grammer reportedly makes more than $1.6 million per episode.
However, both of those shows have been on the air far longer than "CSI." Moreover, hit sitcoms usually generate far more profits through syndication than hit dramas do, which helps explain some of the pay disparity, sources say.
Even so, the new paychecks for Petersen and Helgenberger make them among the best-paid actors on TV.
While actors cast in new series typically sign four-year deals that specify salary increases for every season the show is renewed, it is not uncommon for agents to negotiate much higher increases if a show is a hit. In the first season of "CSI," Petersen earned $65,000 per episode, plus a $10,000-per-episode producer's fee. Helgenberger made $50,000 per episode.
By the end of the first season, when the show's ratings began to take off, CBS agreed to bump Petersen's salary to about $100,000 per episode, and Helgenberger's to $75,000 per episode.
That wasn't all. As a token of appreciation, CBS in the spring sent each of the principal cast members a big-screen, high-definition plasma television. Each TV set is worth at least $20,000.