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Prime time's 10 top-earning women

From Jennifer Love Hewitt to Tina Fey, prime time's leading ladies collectively banked $162 million over the last year.
By Lacey Rose (Forbes) | None
UPDATED ON SEP 27, 2010 04:24 PM IST

In an era of ad-skipping and Web-surfing, prime-time audiences of 25 million and the Friends-style paydays that come with them are largely a memory of television past.

Add today's tight advertising budgets and its no wonder network executives continue to take a hard line on star salaries. Rather than pay a lead as much as $200,000 per episode, as networks have freely done in seasons past, even acclaimed film stars are lucky to walk away with $125,000 to star in a new series today. Plenty of established shows, too, are being hit by cost-cutting measures, be it shortening a show's season or freezing its stars' salaries.

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To compensate, many of the genre's leading ladies are parlaying their small-screen appeal into other ventures (and revenue streams). In addition to popular prime-time network shows, several, including Eva Longoria Parker (No. 4), Tina Fey (No. 7) and Jennifer Love Hewitt (No. 10), have bolstered their résumés with everything from film roles, record companies and production projects to perfumes, books and endorsement deals. In fact, these side projects have helped the stars on our list of Prime Time's Top-Earning Women collectively rake in an estimated $162 million between June 1, 2009, and June 1, 2010. Earnings are calculated before taxes, management fees and other costs; voice-only actresses were omitted from the list.

Topping the list is Ellen DeGeneres, who banked an estimated $55 million in the 12-month period by becoming as much brand as she is TV star. Though her stint in prime time as a judge on American Idol was brief, she remains a ratings magnet earlier in the day as host of her popular gabfest, The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Growing her presence--and pocketbook--still more, she has lent her face to ad campaigns for American Express ( AXP - news - people ), CoverGirl and newer entry Vitamin Water. More recently, she announced she was launching her own record label, eleveneleven, and promptly signed 12-year-old YouTube sensation Greyson Chance as her first artist.

At No. 2 on our list is Tyra Banks, who earned an estimated $25 million over the course of the year. Though the host, producer and Bankable chairwoman wrapped her daytime series this spring, she'll continue to produce and host her prime-time creation, America's Next Top Model, which has built a loyal following among younger females around the world. Off camera, the former model serves as a producer on ABC's True Beauty and will soon roll out her first of many books, called Modelland.

Rounding out the top three is former Grey's Anatomy star Katherine Heigl, who raked in an estimated $15.5 million during the same period. Though the famously outspoken actress has garnered critics for her controversial comments, she remains a big draw--and as a result, a big earner--on-screen. In fact, thanks to a string of box office successes like Knocked Up and 27 Dresses, Heigl commands a cool $12 million per film, placing her among the best-paid ladies in Hollywood. (Her more recent star turn opposite Ashton Kutcher in the critically-panned Killers proved a dud.) Up next: Life As We Know It, where she and co-star Josh Duhamel become caregivers to an orphaned girl when their mutual best friends die in an accident.

Still others on our list of the genre's top-earners, including CSI's Marg Helgenberger and Grey's Anatomy's Ellen Pompeo, rely solely on TV income. And while they're not making the $1 million per episode that Jennifer Aniston and her five Friends co-stars made nearly a decade ago, their respective $10 million and $7 million seasonal incomes are hardly worth pitying.

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