Talk isn't cheap. From Oprah Winfrey (No. 1) to Tyra Banks (No. 6) to Conan O'Brien (No. 8), TV's 10 best-paid talk show hosts collectively raked in an estimated $568 million between June 1, 2008, and June 1, 2009. While most of them have been busy padding their pocketbooks with side projects and endorsement deals, they have their gift for gab to thank for the bulk of their earnings.
Consider NBC's decision to replace five hours of costly scripted dramas at 10 p.m. with prime-time episodes of a nightly “Jay Leno Show.” While much of the creative community has blasted the financially minded programming move, few deny it will save the General Electric-owned company millions in production. Leno's new talk show not only keeps the former “Tonight Show” host at NBC, but also costs as little as 10 percent of an average 10 p.m. drama. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture between NBC and Microsoft.)
Marketing aside, the only expensive part is Leno, who places fifth on this list. Between stand-up and the “Tonight Show,” the affable host pulled down an estimated $32 million last year, a sum which is expected to rise with the new gig.
Since Leno left the late-night landscape, “Late Show” host David Letterman can finally claim ownership of two titles: the genre's most watched and top earner. The veteran host earned an estimated $45 million during the 12-month period, garnering him a spot at No. 3 on this list.
Working in Letterman's favor is an ownership stake in his show, something competitors O'Brien and Jimmy Kimmel don't have. Owning a slice of “Everybody Loves Raymond” reruns and nightly follow-up “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” through his production company doesn't hurt either.
Over on cable, “The Daily Show's” Jon Stewart pulled down an impressive $14 million, garnering him the 10th spot in the rankings. High-profile smack-downs with CNBC's “Mad Money” star Jim Cramer and CNN host Larry King grabbed ink and ratings for Comedy Central. What's more, Stewart's Busboy Productions puts out and profits from popular spin-off “The Colbert Report” and newcomer “Important Things with Demetri Martin.”
But none of them compare to Winfrey, who tops still another best-paid list with estimated earnings of $275 million for the year.
While her flagship series, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” has taken a hit in the ratings, she continues to lure top guests and top dollars. In addition to the daily chat-fest and eponymous magazine, the self-made billionaire has a three-year, $55 million contract with XM Satellite Radio.
Next, Winfey's production company will roll out its latest Oprah-made star, Dr. Mehmet Oz. Like Rachael Ray (No. 8) and Dr. Phil McGraw (No. 2), before him, Oz will host a daily hour-long talk show, “The Dr. Oz Show.” Shortly thereafter, Winfrey is expected to launch her lifestyle-themed Oprah Winfrey Network in partnership with Discovery Communications.