Forbes cover girl Sofia Vergara is on top of the world.
The Colombian actress just turned 40 and celebrated with a lavish week-long getaway in Mexico where it’s rumored she became engaged to longtime beau Nick Loeb. Professionally speaking, her ABC hit, "Modern Family," averaged 12 million viewers in its third season, a slew of endorsement and licensing deals keep paychecks fat, and LatinWE, the media company she co-founded in 1996, just had a top-earning year with $27 million in revenues. We estimate Vergara’s earnings between May 2011 and May 2012 at $19 million, making her the top earning actress on U.S. television.
Not bad for a farmer’s daughter from Barranquilla, Colombia.
In Vergara, television has found the crossover star it’s been waiting for since Desi Arnaz left the airwaves. Her appeal with Hispanics is unrivaled; she has a positive Q Score more than twice that of the average celebrity. And with the ABC smash hit "Modern Family," Vergara’s won over American audiences without alienating her Latina roots. For advertisers, the combination is electric. In the past year, the actress has signed endorsement deals in English and Spanish that amount to a whopping $12 million. Kmart has gotten behind her clothing line with an advance that will total $7 million by the end of 2012.
The past twelve months have made Vergara the reigning queen of primetime television, out-earning even uber-lucrative reality star Kim Kardashian, who comes in at second place on our list by a scant $1 million. Kardashian, whose family just re-upped their contract with E! for $60 million, kept busy in 2012 with "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" and keeping up appearances in the wake of her quickie divorce. We estimate Kim earned $18 million between May 2011 and May 2012.
The two top earners have both been tabloid staples over the past twelve months; Kim’s publicly flaunted for her whirlwind romance with rapper Kanye West, and Sofia’s personal life made equally big news. But while Kim’s made an art form of toying with the press, for Vergara the experience has become something of a nuisance. Her on-again, off-again boyfriend was accused of some serious philandering in June and the actress found herself a target for paparazzi in New York City. “I might kill one of them,” she told me conspiratorially on a weekday afternoon perched on the penthouse terrace of the Trump Soho hotel while swarms of photographers crowded the sidewalk below.
But while their conceptions of privacy might be polar opposites, in terms of business strategy, Kardashian and Vergara have a lot in common. Both have price-conscious clothing lines at national retailers -- Kardashian at Sears and Vergara at Kmart -- although, according to sources, Vergara got the better deal. Her $7 million advance speaks volumes of Kmart’s interest in the booming Hispanic market.
Both brag major endorsement deals -- Kim’s lent her name to diet, beauty and lifestyle brands while Sofia’s face appears in ad campaigns for Diet Pepsi, Burger King and Covergirl. And both are prolific users of social media: Kim’s Twitter feed boasts 15 million followers while Vergara’s 3 million are supplemented by a popular YouTube channel that gives her fans unique insight into her life. A recent behind-the-scenes video of her 40th birthday celebration included footage aboard the Air Mexico flight that flew over 100 guests to Playa del Carmen, Mexico.
Trailing by $3 million, Eva Longoria ranks third on our list, pulling in $15 million for her role on ABC’s "Desperate Housewives." The women of Wisteria Lane have some of the highest per-episode salaries on television; each of the leads earned an estimated $8 million for the final season of the long-running hit. But Longoria’s got earnings that land her far above her on-screen neighbors (Felicity Huffman, Teri Hatcher, and Marcia Cross also fall in the top 10); endorsement deals with L’Oreal and Pepsi Next earned her $5 million and sales of her cookbook, two fragrances, and a handful of small movie roles rounded out her 2012 earnings.
But while "Desperate Housewives" is over, Longoria’s still got a few tricks up her sleeve: This summer, she’s filming a reality dating show, "Ready For Love," and the campy drama "Devious Maids," which she’s producing with "Housewives" creator Marc Cherry, was picked up by Lifetime in June. The show is an English adaptation of the Mexican telenovela "Ellas son la Alegría del Hogar," and will star Latina leads Ana Ortiz ("Ugly Betty"), Judy Reyes ("Scrubs"), and Dania Ramirez ("Heroes").
While reality television dominates the top five -- Kim’s sister Khloe Kardashian and Skinnygirl Bethenny Frankel complete the top tier of the best-paid TV actresses list with $11 and $12 million, respectively -- the fact that the two top-earning actresses on scripted television shows are Latinas speaks to the next exploding trend in media.
As the U.S. Hispanic population booms (Latinos accounted for over 50% of America’s population growth over the past decade), media companies are scrambling to capitalize on the estimated $1 trillion in spending power the demographic commands. The earnings of Longoria and Vergara make it perfectly clear that everyone -- from TV networks to advertisers to licensing partners -- are looking for their piece of the pie.
To determine who the highest-paid actresses on television are, we consider upfront pay, residuals, endorsements, and advertising work. We talk to managers, agents, lawyers and other in-the-know folks to come up with our estimates. We do not deduct for things like agent fees or expenses related to being a celebrity.
While the annual Celebrity 100 list accounts for press and social media buzz to rank the most powerful celebrities in America, this time, we’re looking purely at dollar signs. As a result, names that didn’t appear on the list do rank among the highest-paid television actresses in Hollywood. Among them, Mariska Hargitay, whose long-running role as detective Olivia Benson not only earns her nearly $400,000 an episode, but an unrivaled residuals paycheck (have you ever turned on the television and not been able to find an episode of "Law and Order: SVU"?). Hargitay lands at number seven on our list and we estimate her earnings at $10 million between May 2011 and May 2012.
Just after the "SVU" crime-fighter, FOX’s "New Girl" Zooey Deschanel pulled in $9 million in a banner year for the indie-darling turned mainstream star. Nielsen tracks "New Girl" at 8 million weekly viewers, and the actress added Pantene and Apple to a growing list of lucrative endorsements that account for more than 50% of her annual take-home pay.
Expect the star to climb both the top-earning actresses and Celebrity 100 list next year, though; "New Girl" was renewed in April for a second season, which should be accompanied by a significant bump in salaries for Deschanel in the lead role. As awards season approaches (Emmy nominees are expected July 19th), the “adorkable” actress is a favorite for the best lead actress in a comedy category, a nod that could lead to new doors -- and dollar signs for the actress.