Special Report

Highest-Paid Hosts on Late Night TV

9. Stephen Colbert
> Annual earnings: $4 million
> Show: “The Colbert Report”
> Network: Comedy Central
> Start time: 11:31 PM
> Years on air: seven
> Avg. viewers: 1.1 million (seventh highest)

In 2005, after spending several years as a “correspondent” on “The Daily Show,” Colbert began producing his own program. Unlike any of the other major talk shows, Colbert is in character the entire time, playing a hyperpatriotic right-wing commentator. While it remains second to “The Daily Show,” which it follows on the schedule, the “Report” has been, by most measures, an enormous success. In the nine months ending February 5, Colbert’s show averaged 1.1 million viewers, more than “Conan,” as well as the entire Comedy Central primetime lineup. Among 18 to 49 year olds, it is the fifth-most popular show on late-night television. While all of the major shows lost viewers in this demographic, “The Colbert Report” only lost an average of 19,000, by far the fewest. In 2010, Colbert signed a new contract with Comedy Central through the end of this year. Colbert’s salary is estimated to be $4 million, currently the lowest pay of any of the nine biggest hosts.

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8. Jimmy Fallon
> Annual earnings: $5 million
> Show: “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”
> Network: NBC
> Start time: 12:37 AM
> Years on air: four
> Avg. viewers: 1.7 million (fourth highest)

“Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” has only been on air since March 2009, yet, it has already generated a significant following. Between September 2010 and February 2011, the show had the third-largest viewership among late-night talk shows, behind only Leno and Letterman. Of course, some of this popularity is because the show follows “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno. “Late Night” also lost the second-smallest number of viewers over the past year, despite its network, NBC, losing the most viewers among all networks. Fallon’s contract is renewed on a year-by-year basis, and reportedly will be up for renewal soon.

7. Jimmy Kimmel
> Annual earnings: $6 million
> Show: “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”
> Network: ABC
> Start time: 12:06 AM
> Years on air: 10
> Avg. viewers: 1.8 million (third highest)

While all other shows on this list lost audience last year, “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” was the exception. The show, which began airing in 2002, averaged 1.75 million viewers over the past nine months. This bumped “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” into the third most popular late night show, beating out Craig Ferguson and Jimmy Fallon. In December, 2010, Kimmel signed a new contract, which has him earning an estimated $6 million. One condition of the contract was that Kimmel’s show would start at midnight, rather than 12:06 AM, trimming six minutes off ABC’s popular “Nightline” show.

6. Conan O’Brien
> Annual earnings: $12 million
> Show: “Conan”
> Network: TBS
> Start time: 11:00 PM
> Years on air: Two
> Avg. viewers: 837,000 (eighth highest)

From 1993 to 2009, Conan O’Brien hosted “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” In 2009, O’Brien took over hosting duties from Jay Leno for the “Tonight Show.” In January 2010, O’Brien left the show after NBC pushed its time slot back to 12:05 AM. In November of that year, he began hosting “Conan” on TBS. However, the show has not done particularly well, and it had the second-smallest average viewership over the past nine months after “Chelsea Lately.” The show also has lost more than 600,000 viewers since last year, the most among late-night shows. According to industry analysts, “Conan” is doing poorly. However, TBS recently committed to the show, signing a contract to ensure it will be produced through April 2014.

5. Chelsea Handler
> Annual earnings: $12.5 million
> Show: “Chelsea Lately”
> Network: E! Network
> Start time: 11:00 PM
> Years on air: five
> Avg. viewers: 673,000 (ninth highest)

In July, 2007, author and comedian Chelsea Handler began hosting her show “Chelsea Lately” on E!, from 11:00 PM to 11:30 PM. The show’s viewership is small compared to the other eight on this list. However, looking at the network’s audience size makes it clear how valuable “Lately” is to the network. Over the past nine months, E!’s primetime lineup audience averaged 150,000 people, while Handler’s show audience was 673,000 people. This helps explain why Handler was able to negotiate a two-year, $25 million deal last November.

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