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Simon Cowell and Howard Stern top Forbes' highest-paid TV personalities list

Dorothy Pomerantz
Forbes

In the hosting game, it pays to be brutally honest. The two men who top our annual list of the Highest-Paid TV Personalities have each earned millions by being, what many people would consider, honest to the point of rudeness.

Simon Cowell is not everyone's cup of tea. The Brit made a splash in the U.S. in 2002 when "American Idol" hit FOX and changed reality television. While judges Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul gave a lot of consideration to the contestants' feelings, Cowell was much tougher. If someone was awful, he told them so. But his willingness to be mean made it that much more exciting when he actually liked a singer.

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Cowell's run as a judge on "American Idol" ended in 2010. He can still be seen calling the honest shots on "The X Factor," which returns Sept. 11. While that show might not get the same ratings as "American Idol," Cowell still earns plenty of money. We estimate that between June 2012 and June 2013, Cowell earned $95 million, putting him in a tie with Howard Stern for first place on our list of the Highest-Paid TV Personalities.

Most of Cowell's money comes from his ownership stakes in "The X Factor" (which now airs in 41 different countries) and "Got Talent," which is the biggest-selling television franchise in the world. There are versions in Vietnam, Afghanistan and China. Not only does Cowell get money from all of those shows, he also gets to scout for talent for his Syco record label. He's the man behind Leona Lewis and One Direction.

In Photos: The Top-Earning Personalities of 2013

In 2006, Stern left traditional radio for a lucrative deal at Sirius Satellite Radio. Being off the public airwaves has allowed the shock jock to get as raunchy as he wants without having to worry about FCC fines. But Stern hasn't hesitated to bite the hand that feeds him. He recently failed in an attempt to revive a lawsuit against Sirius claiming that the company owes him $300 million for reaching certain subscriber milestones. Sirius says those targets were reached only because the company merged with XM. Like Cowell, Stern also earns millions on TV. For the second year in a row he's hosting on Cowell's "America's Got Talent."

To compile our list, we talked to producers, managers, agents and other in-the-know folks to come up with estimates for how much each celebrity earned from entertainment-related work. The research was done for our Celebrity 100 list, which measures earnings between June 2012 and June 2013. We do not deduct for taxes or things like agent fees and the other expenses of being a celebrity.

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In third place is another celebrity who doesn't worry much about being loved. Glenn Beck's whole career has been built on angering large portions of the American public in the interest of appealing to the right-wing fringe. Seeing that the group could earn him more money than he was making on FOX News, Beck took his act to the Internet in 2011 with The Blaze, a subscription website devoted to content from Beck and his fellow thinkers. His fans are happy to pay $100 per year for access to the site. We estimate that between June 2012 and June 2013 Beck earned $90 million.

Perennial top earner Oprah Winfrey sank to fourth place on our list this year with an estimated $77 million in earnings following the disappearance of income from her syndicated talk show. The billionaire is doing fine though. Winfrey has been able to dedicate her considerable power to turning things around at her cable network, OWN. Thanks to must-see interviews like her two-night talk with disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong and comedies from Tyler Perry, OWN is now profitable.

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