Ryan Seacrest Leads Pack of Highest-Paid Reality Stars

PHOTO Some of the highest paid reality TV stars are shown in these file photos.

Good news for would-be reality television stars: reality show salaries are finally catching up with those for dramas and sitcoms.

Nowhere is this clearer than for "American Idol," the No. 1 show on television. "Idol" host Ryan Seacrest recently became the highest paid host on reality TV, signing a deal worth a reported $45 million over the next three years. It's a significant raise for the Seacrest, who reportedly made just shy of $5 million last year.

The title of highest-paid judge likely goes to Simon Cowell. The "Idol" judge is reportedly negotiating a raise in salary from $36 million last year to anywhere from $45 million to an unprecedented $100 million.

"What we are seeing right now, nine years into the reality boom, is reality catching up with what has been true in the scripted world for a long time: television makes people stars," said Matthew Belloni, managing editor for features at The Hollywood Reporter. "Once the show is a hit, the stars get to cash in."

"Some of these salaries are so outrageous," said MJ Santilli, who writes about "Idol" on mjsbigblog.com. "But in the early 2000s, the cast of 'Friends' was making $1 million per episode. If you look at in those terms, it's not really that outrageous."

Competition or talent shows like "The Bachelor" or "Idol" generally pay participants nothing, unless they win. Diary shows, which document participants' lives, do pay. How much depends on how popular participants become or whether celebrities are involved.

The women on Bravo's "Real Housewives of New York" started the first season making a reported $5,000 an episode. By the second season, their salaries had reportedly gone up to $75,000 an episode.

Lauren Conrad, Heidi Montag Make $100K

Other big reality show earners:

"The Hills" stars, Lauren Conrad, Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag, were each making $100,000 per episode, Belloni believes.

Donald Trump reportedly doubled his "Apprentice" salary between the first and second season, from $50,000 an episode to $100,000.

As their stars rose, so did salaries the Osbournes made on their MTV hit. According to press reports, each family member went from $5,000 an episode to $1 million for the season by the time the show ended.

Jon and Kate Gosselin make a reported $75,000 for each episode of "Jon & Kate Plus 8."

While all that may sound outlandish, the truth is that the salaries, in the case of reality stars like the Gosselins, are only the tip of the iceberg. There are books, videos, appearance fees and endorsement deals that all add to the bottom line.

Jon and Kate reportedly charge $25,000 per speaking engagement and $20 for each signed picture of the family. It's believed that $15 million of Seacrest's pay is for merchandising rights to his image.

Hosts Gets the Biggest Paydays

The biggest reality television stars, however, are the people on screen season after season: the hosts and the judges.

Besides Seacrest, other well-paid reality hosts include Jeff Foxworthy, who makes an estimate $150,000 per episode from "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader," and Jeff Probst, who reportedly makes several million each year from "Survivor." Former "Idol" executive producer Nigel Lythgoe also does well as a judge and producer of his current show "So You Think You Can Dance," Belloni said.

Belloni said huge salary increases for Seacrest and Cowell make sense for Fox Entertainment and FreemantleMedia, the producers of "Idol."

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