Primetime TV's Top-Earning Men

By Lacey Rose, | Monday, October 11, 2010, 3:32 PM

Charlie Sheen makes the list
CBS/Warner Bros.

From juicy roles to top-shelf wardrobes, TV's leading ladies have plenty to boast about. But when it comes to money, it still pays to be a man.

Primetime's 10 top-earning men collectively banked $308 million between June 1, 2009, and June 1, 2010, by our estimates, nearly double the $162 million their female counterparts pulled down during the same period. Stripping away all of his side projects, the best-paid scripted actor ("Two and a Half Men" star Charlie Sheen) still managed to outearn the best-paid scripted actress ("CSI" star Marg Helgenberger) three-to-one when back-end profits were factored in. What's more, the opportunity to land lucrative lead roles on network television is significantly greater for men, a commentary on the types of shows (male-driven action series, crime dramas) that play with broader audiences today.

But in a medium hit hard by changing viewer habits and shrinking ad budgets, it's not enough to rely on TV shows —or more pointedly, TV salaries — alone. That's why many of the genre's leading men, such as Hugh Laurie (No. 9), are parlaying their small-screen appeal into other ventures, be it film projects, endorsement deals, or producer gigs.

And while it isn't as easy for the men to cash in on fashion endorsements and fragrances, some, including Avon spokesman Patrick Dempsey (No. 8), have found a way in. Still others, who got their start in other media, including radio's Ryan Seacrest (No. 2), are busy capitalizing on their TV brands to build out their entertainment empires.

(Earnings are calculated before taxes, management fees, and other costs; voice-only actors were omitted from the list.)

Topping the list is "American Idol" runaway Simon Cowell, who banked an impressive $80 million over the past year. The British TV personality made much of his bounty from "Idol," the top-rated series he chose to walk away from this past spring. (Come January, new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez will attempt to fill his shoes.) He also collects fees from both the "Got Talent" and "X Factor" formats, along with profits from his record label. Looking ahead to next year, the man whom TV fans love to loathe will add another potential cash machine to his armory, when "The X Factor" (finally) crosses the pond.

Not far behind is his one-time "Idol" frenemy Ryan Seacrest, who raked in $51 million during the same period. At 35 years old, the "Idol" host and "E! News" personality may not be as wealthy as Cowell, but he's certainly as busy — and getting busier. In addition to lucrative deals with Clear Channel Radio ($15 million a year), "Idol" parent company CKX ($15 million), and the Comcast Entertainment Group ($15 million), Seacrest produces a host of TV shows, including E!'s "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" and ABC's "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution." He also shills for Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and Microsoft search engine Bing. Setting his sights still higher, he's in the very early stages of launching a new cable network with talent agency CAA and entertainment giant AEG.

"The Apprentice" host Donald Trump comes in at No. 3, while "The Office" star Steve Carell and "Two and a Half Men" star Charlie Sheen round out the top 5. Over the course of the year, the men banked an estimated $50 million, $34 million, and $30 million, respectively, from their entertainment ventures.

While Trump has continued to invest in his increasingly ratings-challenged reality series, Carell has announced he'll be leaving his aging show at the end of the current season. The "Date Night" star will focus his efforts on the big screen, where he can make considerably more money as a leading man. Proof: More than two-thirds of his income this past year came from his work in film.

After Sheen publicly flirted with the idea of departing his show as well, he ultimately decided to stick with the top-rated series. In fact, thanks to a sweetened deal, the actor inside the bowling shirts will remain involved for at least two more seasons, at a price point that makes him scripted TV's top-paid actor by a considerable margin. (Expect his co-stars, Jon Cryer and Angus T. Jones — the "Half" in "Two and a Half Men" — to grace next year's list.)

Primetime TV's Top-Earning Men - Yahoo! TV Blog