Special Report

Highest-Paid Hosts on Late Night TV

4. Craig Ferguson
> Annual earnings: $12.7 million
> Show: “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson”
> Network: CBS
> Start time: 12:37 AM
> Years on air: seven
> Avg. viewers: 1.5 million (sixth highest)

Craig Ferguson has been hosting “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” since 2005. It currently competes with “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” which shares its 12:35 AM slot. Though once neck and neck, average viewership for the past nine months has propelled Fallon’s show ahead by more than 200,000 viewers after Ferguson lost nearly a quarter million average viewers. On Tuesday, Ferguson signed on to host his show through the end of 2014. According to a company press release, “Craig Ferguson continues to evolve the genre in exciting and innovative ways,” according Nina Tassler, President of CBS Entertainment.  As part of the agreement, Ferguson will move to a larger stage at CBS Studios, something the host has complained about for some time.

3. Jon Stewart
> Annual earnings: $14 million
> Show: Comedy Central
> Network: “The Daily Show”
> Start time: 11:00 PM
> Years on air: 13
> Avg. viewers: 1.5 million (fifth highest)

In 1999, Jon Stewart took over for Craig Kilborn as host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” Since then, the success of the show has skyrocketed, earning 16 Emmy Awards and spawning independent careers of several other comedians and a spin-off. The program is currently the fifth-most popular late-night show on television, but the third most popular among 18 to 49 year olds. The show’s average audience over the past nine months of 1.5 million viewers is more than one-and-a-half times the size of Comedy Central’s primetime lineup. Last year, the network extended Stewart’s contract through the end of 2012 for a reported $14 million a year.

2. Jay Leno
> Annual earnings: $25 million
> Show: “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”
> Network: NBC
> Start time: 11:35 PM
> Years on air: 20
> Avg. viewers: 3.7 million (the highest)

Jay Leno is one of television’s biggest stars. Leno has hosted “The Tonight Show” since 1992, with a brief break in 2009, during which he hosted the failed “The Jay Leno Show.” This makes Leno the longest-working late-night host aside from David Letterman. “The Tonight Show” is the most popular nighttime talk show, averaging nearly 3.7 million nightly viewers in the past nine months. The second-most popular is “Late Show with David Letterman,” which averages about 3.2 million viewers. Leno signed a new contract in 2010, when he returned to “The Tonight Show” after Conan O’Brien’s seven-month stint as host.

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1. David Letterman
> Annual earnings: $28 million
> Show: “Late Show with David Letterman”
> Network: CBS
> Start time: 11:35 PM
> Years on air: 19
> Avg. viewers: 3.2 million (second highest)

David Letterman has been performing on late-night television since 1983, when he began hosting NBC’s “Late Night.” In 1993, after losing a bid for “The Tonight Show” to Jay Leno, Letterman left the network (Conan O’Brien then took over “Late Night”) to begin hosting “Late Show” on CBS. The new show has been successful, but recently has taken a major dive in ratings. While CBS lost substantial viewership from last year, it did not lose nearly as much as NBC and ABC — the other two major networks. Letterman’s show, however, lost more than 300,000 viewers last year, which is more than twice the losses of Leno’s show. However, “Late Show” remains the second-most watched show on television. This fact, along with Letterman’s 30 years in the business, are the reasons he earns an estimated $28 million.

–Charles B. Stockdale and Michael B. Sauter

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