There was a time when million-dollar paychecks were something of the norm among top television talent on Hollywood lots. Stars of hit TV shows from “Seinfeld” and “Friends” to “Mad about You” and “Frasier” walked away with at least this much on a per-episode basis.
But with growing options and irreversible digitalization, the days of big ratings and the paydays that come with them are a thing of the past. Add plummeting advertising revenue and it’s no surprise TV executives are taking a hard line on salaries. (Proof: “Law and Order: SVU’s” Mariska Hargitay and co-star Chris Meloni appeared dangerously close to losing their jobs as a bitter and protracted salary dispute raged on this past spring.) To compensate, the genre’s leading ladies are finding other ways — and mediums — to beef up their income.
In fact, thanks to increasingly diversified portfolios, the stars on our list of prime-time’s top-earning women collectively raked in an estimated $116 million between June 1, 2008, and June 1, 2009. (Earnings are calculated before taxes, management fees and other costs; voice-only actresses were omitted from the list.) In addition to starring roles on broadcast TV, many have found ways to pad their resumes and pocketbooks with film roles, production projects and endorsement deals.
Among them: “America’s Next Top Model’s” Tyra Banks, who lands atop our list with estimated earnings of $30 million during the 12-month period. The supermodel turned super-personality serves up her unscripted model competition series on the CW as well an eponymous daytime talk show (also on the CW) and frequent cameos (most recently, on “Gossip Girl”). Off camera, Banks acts as a producer on a host of shows, from ABC’s “True Beauty” to the CW’s since-canceled “Stylista.”
No. 2 Katherine Heigl banked an estimated $18 million over the course of the year, care of television, film and endorsement ventures. Though the outspoken actress has garnered critics with her controversial stances on roles in both “Grey’s Anatomy” (she famously withdrew from the Emmy competition last year, arguing her part didn’t warrant a nod) and “Knocked Up” (she blasted her career-launching film for being sexist), she remains a big draw on both the big and small screen. In fact, she’s one of few women who can carry a film, particularly impressive given her TV background.