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©WENN / Ashton Kutcher
© WENN / Ashton Kutcher
Ashton Kutcher leads Forbes' 2014 list of TV's top-earning actors

By Vanna Le

Forbes.com

While the media might be crazy about cerebral shows like "Mad Men" and "True Detective," the numbers show that what Americans really love is silly sitcoms. That's powered Ashton Kutcher to the top of our list of Highest-Paid TV Actors for the third year in a row.

The 36-year-old star of "Two and a Half Men" earned an estimated $26 million this year between June 2013 to June 2014. Though "Men" has stumbled ratings-wise since Charlie Sheen checked out, the CBS hit still pulled in solid ratings for its eleventh season, averaging 11 million viewers per episode.

The show is scheduled to wrap up after next season, but Kutcher has plenty of other things going for him. The actor has made a name for himself as a tech investor, and his earnings are up $3 million over last year's list thanks to a lucrative multi-year contract with tablet-maker Lenovo as a product engineer. He's also got a baby on the way with actress Mila Kunis, with a wedding reportedly planned for next summer.

Of late, the names on our list haven't changed much from year to year -- until now. The industry is evolving due to the rise of online streaming, DVR playback, VOD and changes in the way viewers consume shows. All of this has brought newcomers, surprising comebacks and sudden drop-offs to our list, which consists solely of male actors.

Sitcom veteran Jon Cryer is taking the more traditional route for his post-"Two and a Half Men" life: He's writing a memoir, due out in 2015. With the book advance and a hefty paycheck, the 49-year-old actor takes the No. 2 spot again this year.

More from Forbes: In Pictures: The Highest-Paid TV Actors of 2014

This year has been good to Neil Patrick Harris. The Tony Award-winning actor had a truly career-redefining moment thanks to his breakout performance in Broadway's "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." He also made an impressive leap in earnings: The success of "How I Met Your Mother" helped the actor pull in an estimated $18 million this year, making him the third highest-paid TV star in Hollywood. That's up from $3 million in earnings back in 2012.

Harris also signed an endorsement contract with American Airlines and has a book (published by Crown) coming out later this year. Even though "HIMYM" ended with a bang, he'll continue to reap from the show's syndication royalties while working on more movies like "A Million Ways to Die in the West."

We took our numbers from our research for our annual Celebrity 100 list, which is partly based on how much Hollywood's biggest stars earn from entertainment-related endeavors. Estimates are based on conversations with managers, producers, lawyers and industry insiders. We don't deduct for taxes, management fees and other celebrity expenses.

Kevin Spacey makes a notable debut on this year s list, coming in at No. 4. The "House of Cards" star was crowned as the first Internet star on our Celebrity 100 list earlier this year, pulling in $16 million thanks to a lucrative contract with Netflix, an endorsement deal with E-Trade, and a role in "Horrible Bosses 2." With a renegotiated contract for the third season of the critical darling, chances are you can expect to see Spacey back on the list next year.

At No. 7 with $12 million in earnings, Jim Parsons comes in slightly ahead of his "Big Bang Theory" cast mates in annual earnings due to his voice work for the DreamWorks movie "Home" and other small roles. Now that he's sealed a renegotiated three-year contract (reportedly worth $1 million per episode) you can expect to see Parsons back on the list next year with a fat increase in earnings.

Another newcomer, Jon Hamm (No. 9), pulled in $10 million this year, cashing in a hefty paycheck from his portrayal of the dapper Don Draper on "Mad Men," which is currently halfway through its last season. The rest of his earnings come from his endorsement deals with brands like American Airlines and Mercedes -- and you can be sure that lending the voice of Sterling Cooper's ad-master to any ad campaign is worth a multi-million dollar contract.

*Additional research by Alicia Adamczyk.

More from Forbes.com:

In Pictures: The Most Powerful Actors of 2014
In Pictures: The Most Powerful Actresses of 2014 
In Pictures: The Most Powerful Celebrities In Hollywood