After nearly two decades of uninterrupted success, Ellen DeGeneres is in her 19th and final season of her namesake talk show. She’ll walk away — or more appropriately, dance away — from “Ellen” as one of the richest, most accomplished and most influential talk show hosts in history.
Unfortunately, she’s leaving under a cloud of controversy that dings up the “be kind to one another” image she’s spent so many years cultivating. As the number of COVID-19 cases rose in the spring of 2020, so, too, did the number of past and current “Ellen” show employees coming forward with ugly stories about a toxic and stressful work culture that they say started at the top. By May 2021, the storm became unsurvivable and Ellen announced the next season would be her last.
But for now, “Ellen” is still on air, and although none of her competitors can even begin to compete with her fortune, she’s hardly America’s only rich talk show host. Here’s a look at the others.
The public learned more than it probably ought to know about the details of Kelly Clarkson’s financial life when those details spilled out during divorce proceedings with her ex-husband, Brandon Blackstock, this summer.
Us Weekly reported that the “American Idol” veteran pulls in $1.9 million a month through her combined salaries from “The Kelly Clarkson Show” and NBC’s “The Voice,” although the split is unclear. Clarkson also rakes in millions from her music — both record sales and live tours — and she launched a home collection, the profits from which surely pad her bulging real estate portfolio.
In 2019, Jimmy Kimmel was already the longest-running active late-night host when he signed a three-year contract extension with ABC that keeps “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” on through 2022, according to Deadline. He draws two hefty salaries — one as a host and one as an executive producer.
During his two-decade stint, he also went to bat for the network twice as host of the Academy Awards. He also hosted the Emmys and served as the star of 16 upfront presentations, Deadline reported. The details of his current contract are unknown, but when he last renegotiated his contract in 2016, Forbes reported his annual earnings at $12 million.
In 2014, Jimmy Fallon found his way onto the Forbes Celebrity 100 list — breaking all the way into the top 50 — with a $12 million haul during his first year after taking over “The Tonight Show” from Jay Leno. Two years later, he was outperforming much of the competition and his salary was rising right along with his ratings. That year, he earned $15 million, according to Forbes.
In November 2020, Variety reported that NBC had extended Fallon’s contract, but couldn’t nail down the details. In May 2021, Deadline reported that NBC had extended it again, but this time for five years.
In 2015, the first year that Stephen Colbert replaced David Letterman as the host of “The Late Show,” it appeared that the “Daily Show” veteran was overpaid. His $15 million salary put him in an even tie with Jimmy Fallon for the title of the highest-paid host in late-night TV, according to Forbes. He was the No. 12 highest-paid among all talk show hosts in 2016. The problem was, his ratings did not match his paycheck or his producers’ expectations. There was talk of swapping him out with viral video king James Corden.
But CBS stuck with him, according to CNBC, and by 2019 he had earned the best ratings in the business, tens of millions of monologue downloads, critical praise and 13 Emmys nominations. CBS extended his contract through 2023.
Although he’s most famous for his role as the host of “The Daily Show,” Trevor Noah was still making most of his money from stand-up in 2019 when Forbes named him that year’s No. 4 highest-paid comedian. He somehow managed the obligations of hosting a nightly talk show while still turning in nearly 70 live performances across the world and recording his second Netflix special in the same year. His star was shining so bright that a book he published in 2016 was still the No. 1 nonfiction paperback on The New York Times’ bestseller list three years later.
In 2017, two years after he replaced Jon Stewart, Noah signed a five-year contract extension that keeps him at Comedy Central through 2022. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the deal includes sweet perks like an annual year-end “Daily Show” special that Noah both hosts and produces.
Ellen’s remarkable career is ending on one of its only sour notes. She stirred controversy and earned icon status when she came out in 1997 with the famous “Yep, I’m Gay” cover of Time Magazine. The national conversation that the moment stoked transferred seamlessly to Ellen’s self-titled sitcom and in 2003, she began her 19-year run as the other queen of daytime talk — she was widely seen as having received the mantle from her friend Oprah Winfrey, according to CNN.
She earns an eight-figure check from her show, according to Forbes, she makes millions as a producer for projects like “Little Big Shots,” and in 2018, she became the first woman to earn $20 million for a Netflix stand-up special.
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