It’s Simon Cowell’s world and we just live in it.
But the real surprise on Forbes magazine’s list of the richest men in prime-time television is who’s ranked No. 2 — “Apprentice” host Donald Trump.
The master builder is raking in $50 million-a-year from TV, according to the magazine.
How could that be?
Easy. Trump owns “Apprentice” — he’s the only one on the list who owns his show — with reality producer Mark Burnett.
That means he and Burnett split the millions the show makes each season on product placement ads.
And the show is also an international hit with local versions in England, Italy, France and South America.
Forbes Celebrity Valuations
Prime Time’s Top-Earning Men
Lacey Rose, 11.09.09, 06:00 PM EST
From Simon Cowell to Steve Carell, the medium’s best paid are padding their bank accounts with income from multiple sources.
In Pictures: Prime Time’s Top-Earning Men
LOS ANGELES — Simon Cowell is more than just the meanest man in prime-time television, he’s also the best paid.
In an industry hammered by changing viewer habits and dwindling advertising dollars, the 50-year-old Brit and his Fox juggernaut American Idol continue to score record ratings and big money. Though the singing competition’s viewership has slid in recent years, it still managed to round out last season with an average weekly audience of 27 million, making it the most-watched series in prime time. And like Cowell’s fellow top earners, the host you love to loathe has found several avenues to cash in, including judging, producing and music publishing. His total haul between June 1, 2008, and June 1, 2009: $75 million.
While his wallet is no doubt thicker than most, Cowell’s unscripted and diversified résumé is a recurring theme on this year’s list of Prime Time’s Top-Earning Men. In addition to starring roles on broadcast television, many of them in the reality genre, these boldface names have found ways to pad their résumés and their bank accounts with film roles, production projects, merchandise efforts and endorsement deals.
At No. 2 is the real-estate mogul turned reality show host Donald Trump, who banked an estimated $50 million from his similarly vast collection of entertainment ventures this year. (Earnings are calculated before taxes, management fees and other costs; voice-only actors were omitted from the list.)
Though Trump’s Apprentice franchise took another ratings hit last season–down 11% from its celebrity debut a season earlier–it continues to attract viewers and sponsors. Among the latter: Zappos.com, Loews Hotels and Chicken of the Sea. Trump also lends his name to everything from alcohol to neck ties, and reaps millions from speeches worldwide and books.
Fellow Idol-er Ryan Seacrest lands at No. 3 on the list, earning a cool $38 million during the 12-month period. Arguably the hardest-working man in entertainment, the 34-year-old showman hosts News Corp. ( NWS – news – people )-owned Fox’s Idol as well as E! News, a top-40 radio countdown, Walt Disney ( DIS – news – people )-owned ABC’s New Year’s Eve special and red-carpet events. In addition to lucrative deals with both ClearChannel Radio and the Comcast Entertainment Group, as well as endorsers like Procter & Gamble ( PG – news – people ), he develops and produces TV shows, including E’s Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Denise Richards: It’s Complicated. The three-year, $45 million contract that he inked this summer with CKX ( CKXE – news – people ), parent of Idol producer 19 Entertainment, will count toward next year’s earnings.