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Image: Tina Fey
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"30 Rock" star Tina Fey tops Forbes' list of highest-paid TV actresses.
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updated 10/4/2011 1:37:28 PM ET 2011-10-04T17:37:28

The 10 women on our Highest Paid TV Actresses list earned a total of $94 million between May 2010 and May 2011. That may seem like a lot, but consider their movie peers: Just the top three women in movies earned almost as much combined ($88 million).

So yes, women make a lot less in TV than they do if they are big movie stars, but there are advantages. Working mothers with TV roles usually get to stay in L.A. (or New York) instead of having to jet around the world to film locations. There’s a steady paycheck and no worrying about Angelina Jolie beating you out for the part in the next big film.

Forbes in pictures: Hollywood's highest paid TV actresses

And usually the roles are better. None of the women on our list play the doting girlfriend or the damsel in distress. They all portray strong-willed, well-rounded women who have the room to grown and change over the course of many seasons.

Just look at the two women who tie for first place on our list: Tina Fey and Eva Longoria. Each actresses earned $13 million between May 2010 and May 2011.

Forbes in pictures: Highest paid men in entertainment

In addition to starring on "30 Rock," Fey is the producer and head writer. And while the show hasn’t been a massive rating success for Comcast‘s NBC network, it has developed the kind of loyal following that laps up DVDs and watches the shows again and again. "30 Rock" is now in syndication on Fox and Comedy Central. Fey’s unique take on the work-place comedy is a big part of the reason the show draws such loyal fans. Who else but Fey could coin a term like "lizzing"?

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The women on "Desperate Housewives" aren’t pushovers either. Longoria leads the pack with $13 million thanks to lucrative endorsement deals with L’Oreal and LG, but all three of her co-stars are also on our list. Marcia Cross ranks third with $10 million and Felicity Huffman and Terry Hatcher tie for fifth with $9 million each.

Forbes in pictures: Top-earning celebrity moms

The adventures of the four suburban housewives have been a boon for Disney’s ABC. When the show hit the air in 2004 (along with "Lost"), it transformed ABC from a has-been to the hottest network almost overnight. The show has had a massive run but its current season (the eighth) will be the show’s last. The season’s recent premiere was the show’s lowest rated.

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But don’t cry for the ladies. They’ll collect fat checks from syndication for years to come. Older episodes can currently be seen on Lifetime.

You don’t see too many female crime investigators in the movies but two women make our list with those TV roles: Mariska Hargitay and Marg Helgenberger.

The pair tie for third place with Marcia Cross. Each of the three women earned an estimated $10 million during our time frame.

Forbes in pictures: The world's most powerful couples

To come up with our earnings estimates (which are gross earnings and don’t account for things like agent and manager fees) we talked to lawyers, producers and agents in the know to find out what each star made per episode, from any syndication deals and from endorsements.

Helgenberg has anchored the original "CSI" on CBS for 11 years now. In that time much of the rest of the cast has rotated. She’s now acting opposite her third male lead: Ted Danson. The former "Cheers" actor took over from Laurence Fishburne, who had starred in the show for two and a half seasons.

Hargitay has also become a television mainstay. She’s a big part of the reason "Law & Order: SVU" (now in its 13th season) has become the most successful part of the Dick Wolf franchise. Between new and syndicated episodes "SVU" pulls in an average 53 million viewers per week.

Surprised by who's at No. 1? Share your thoughts on the Facebook page for our TV blog, The Clicker.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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