Pocketing $147 million pretax last year, Sheindlin is the highest-paid television host, outearning all others.
"Many people, as I did in the beginning, get stuck with a job they don’t really like. … If you’re not doing something that you love to do, find something that you love to do, because it will make your whole life different,” Sheindlin said at 2017’s Forbes Women’s Summit. With a nine-figure check, it’s no surprise she loves her job.
The sharp-talking daytime judge takes the top spot thanks to her even sharper deal-making skills: Last year she sold the rights to her Judge Judy’s 5,200-episode library, as well as future episodes of the show, to CBS for an estimated $100 million. Between that paycheck and the $47 million she gets for hosting Judge Judy and producing Hot Bench, Sheindlin took in triple her typical annual paycheck. With that added to her bank account, she also became 48th-richest self-made woman in America, with a net worth of $400 million.
Like Sheindlin, all of the members of the list host daytime television shows. While nighttime cable news hosts like Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow may get more media attention, daytime broadcast series boast the eyeballs—and thus pay the big money. Judge Judyconsistently garners more than 10 million daily viewers in its 23rd season, while Dr. Phil, hosted by Phil McGraw, garners nearly 4 million viewers. To compare, Fox News’ Sean Hannity only averages 3.3 million, while MSNBC’s Maddow averages 2.9 million. To make matters even more lucrative, daytime shows tend to attract the 18- to 49-year-old women on whom advertisers spend most of their money. It’s thanks to these high ratings that star hosts can negotiate such favorable deals with their networks or production houses. While Judy took the route of negotiating to own her entire library of intellectual property, Ellen DeGeneres and McGraw have each made shrewd business deals that allow them to reap more than half of the profits their shows bring in from advertising, product placement and carrying fees.
Because it takes so long to build such a loyal, large audience, it isn’t surprising that the list of Highest-Paid Talk Show Hosts does not vary much year-to-year. Still, new gigs can lead to a pretty big cash jump. Ryan Seacrest, who hosts Live with Kelly and Ryan, saw his earnings leap from $58 million to $74 million this year thanks to his eight-figure check for hosting the revived American Idol. DeGeneres’ income also climbed thanks to a $20 million check from Netflix for a single stand-up special.
See below for the full list, as well as more details on how each small screen star scores such a big check.
METHODOLOGY: All earnings estimates are from June 1, 2017, through June 1, 2018. Figures are pretax; fees for agents, managers and lawyers are not deducted. Earnings estimates are based on data from Nielsen, Box Office Mojo and IMDB, as well as interviews with industry insiders.
5. Steve Harvey
The comedian-turned-talk-show-host premiered his new show Stevelast year as a lighter take on the daytime format. The show has delivered in ratings and was renewed for a second season but does not come close to the popularity of Family Feud, one of four game shows Harvey hosts.
4. Ryan Seacrest
Just as soon as soon as his American Idol hosting gig wrapped up, it was back again—and so was Seacrest’s eight-figure check. In addition to that Los Angeles-based gig, the host and Keeping Up with the Kardashians producer has to be back in New York each morning to host Live with Kelly and Ryan.
3. Dr. Phil McGraw
The talk show host, who has one of the most-watched syndicated shows on TV, has moved behind camera, adding three executive producer credits to his name with his work on The Bull, The Doctorsand Daily Mail TV. Though he is not a practicing doctor, McGraw cofounded Doctors on Demand, an app that connects people with psychologists and physicians.
2. Ellen DeGeneres
DeGeneres made history this year as the first woman to receive $20 million for a Netflix stand-up special. Combined with the eight-figure check she gets from hosting her eponymous show and millions more in producer salaries (Little Big Shots, Splitting Up Together) and licensing fees (PetSmart, Bed, Bath and Beyond), this is DeGeneres' most lucrative year yet.
1. Judy Sheindlin
Daytime television’s sharp talker—who has been on the air for more than two decades and boasts an audience of 10 million—sold the rights to her Judge Judy reruns for an estimated $100 million. The move more than tripled her usual yearly earnings.
With reporting from Natalie Robehmed