Oct. 17, 2012 at 4:53 PM ET
Charlie Sheen? Who’s Charlie Sheen? The volatile actor topped our list of the Highest-Paid TV Actors last year with $40 million. This year he’s nowhere to be seen, while the actor who took over his lead role on the hit CBS sitcom "Two and A Half Men" reigns in the No. 1 spot. We estimate that Ashton Kutcher earned $24 million between May 2011 and May 2012.
Kutcher has proven that he can hold his own on the show. "Two and a Half Men" attracts an average of 12.4 million viewers per episode, making it one of the most-watched sitcom on TV. That’s given Kutcher plenty of money to invest in the Silicon Valley startups that have become his passion. Kutcher was an early investor in Skype, Spotify and Airbnb.
Sheen isn’t the only member of last year’s top 10 who’s dropped off (though Sheen might return in the future thanks to his great deal on the show "Anger Management"). Steve Carrell, who ranked third last year with $15 million in earnings, left the NBC sitcom "The Office" in 2011, and the world of television, so now he’ll need to prove himself as a movie star. Small movies like "Hope Springs" and "Seeking a Friend at the End of the World" aren’t going to help him compete against the likes of Tom Cruise and Will Smith when it comes to paydays.
The numbers for the Highest-Paid TV Actor list come from our Celebrity 100 research and reflect estimated earnings between May 2011 and May 2012. We do not deduct for manager and agent fees or the other costs of being a celebrity.
Ranking second on our list behind Kutcher are Hugh Laurie and Ray Romano, who both earned $18 million. This is likely the last year for Laurie on the list. His Fox show, "House," ended its eight-year run in May. Laurie will continue to earn from "House" in syndication, but his earnings are set to suffer unless he gets another show or beefs up his movie career.
Romano made a brief return to the small screen with "Men of a Certain Age." The TNT show was critically acclaimed but never attracted a very large audience. TNT canceled it last year after only two seasons. Romano still earns plenty though from reruns of his beloved show "Everybody Loves Raymond" and the "Ice Age" franchise, in which he plays wooly mammoth Manny. The fourth "Ice Age" movie earned $860 million at the global box office.
Alec Baldwin and Mark Harmon tie for fourth place with $15 million each. For years Baldwin has been talking about ending his run on "30 Rock" as the awesome executive Jack Donaghy. Now he’ll get his chance to spread his wings. The ratings-challenged sitcom is in its final season. He’ll next voice a tough-talking Santa Claus in DreamWorks Animation’s "Rise of the Guardians."
"NCIS" might be one of the least hip shows on TV, but it’s still a ratings juggernaut for CBS, attracting an average of 19.7 million viewers per show. Harmon, who got his start on the medical drama "St. Elsewhere," has been happy to stick to TV. He hasn’t appeared in a major movie since "NCIS" debuted in 2003.
More in The Clicker: