Who’s the Highest-Paid Star on Television? (You Probably Won’t Get This One) — Here Are the Top 10 Lists That Can’t Easily Be Found Online

Aug 9, 2012  •  Post A Comment

A new survey of the highest-paid stars on television has a name at the top that will probably come as a surprise to most observers. The survey by TV Guide, which lists the top earners in various categories, has a daytime syndication star well ahead of the pack.

The runaway leader is Judge Judy — Judy Sheindlin — with an annual salary of $45 million. Other high-profile personalities in the daytime/syndication category come in well behind her — such as Joe Brown and Kelly Ripa in a tie with a mere $20 million apiece.

Some of the more obvious contenders from the scripted side — such as Ashton Kutcher in the comedy category or Mark Harmon in drama — don’t come close. “Two and a Half Men” star Kutcher leads the scripted group with a salary of $700,000 an episode. Calculating it using the standard 24-episode season yields an estimated annual salary of $16.8 million — a little more than one-third what Judge Judy makes.

Harmon’s $500,000 an episode for “NCIS” leads the drama category, but it calculates out to an annual estimate of just $12 million.

The category king in late-night is CBS’s David Letterman at $28 million a year — better than the $25 million earned by his NBC rival Jay Leno.

Matt Lauer of NBC’s “Today” tops the news category with $21.5 million a year, while the reality category finds “American Idol’s” Mariah Carey on top with her $17 million per season.

TV Guide published highlights of the survey online, with the full lists by category available in the magazine’s hardcopy edition, out today. Reporting for TV Guide are Stephen Battaglio and Michael Schneider.

Here are some of the survey highlights:

Drama (per episode) — Top 10:

Mark Harmon (NCIS): $500,000
Mariska Hargita (Law & Order: SVU): $385,000
Patrick Dempsey (Grey’s Anatomy): $350,000
Ellen Pompeo (Grey’s Anatomy): $350,000
Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy): $350,000
Simon Baker (The Mentalist): $300,000
Michael C. Hall (Dexter): $295,000
Jon Hamm (Mad Men): $250,000
David Boreanaz (Bones): $225,000
Ted Danson (CSI): $225,000
Kiefer Sutherland (Touch): $225,000

Comedy (per episode) — Top 10:

Ashton Kutcher (Two and a Half Men): $700,000
Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men): $600,000
Tina Fey (30 Rock): $350,000
Alec Baldwin (30 Rock): $300,000
Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons): $300,000
Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory): $300,000
Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory): $300,000
Angus T. Jones (Two and a Half Men): $300,000
Julie Kavner (The Simpsons): $300,000
Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory): $300,000
Yeardley Smith (The Simpsons): $300,000

News (per year) — Top 10:

Matt Lauer (Today): $21.5 million
Bill O’Reilly (The O’Reilly Factor): $15 million
Brian Williams (NBC Nightly News): $13 million
Diane Sawyer (ABC World News): $12 million
Anderson Cooper (Anderson Cooper 360 and Anderson Live): $11 million
Shepard Smith (The Fox Report) $8 million
Robin Roberts (Good Morning America) $6 million
Joe Scarborough (Morning Joe) $6 million
Scott Pelley (CBS Evening News) $4 million
Nancy Grace (Nancy Grace) $3 million

Late-Night (per year) — Top 9:

David Letterman: $28 million
Jay Leno: $25 million
Jon Stewart: $16 million
Conan O’Brien: $12 million
Craig Ferguson: $8 million
Chelsea Handler: $8 million
Jimmy Kimmel: $8 million
Stephen Colbert: $6 million
Jimmy Fallon: $5 million

Daytime/Syndication (per year) — highlights:

Judy Sheindlin (Judge Judy): $45 million
Joe Brown (Judge Joe Brown): $20 million
Kelly Ripa (Live! With Kelly): $20 million

Reality (per season) — highlights:

Mariah Carey (American Idol): $17 million
Ryan Seacrest (American Idol): $15 million
Howard Stern (America’s Got Talent): $15 million
Britney Spears (The X Factor): $10 million
The Kardashian Family (Keeping Up with the Kardashians, etc.): $10 million

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