The one thing Taylor Swift, TV producer Shonda Rhimes and Reese Witherspoon have in common


When US business magazine Forbes announces its annual list of highest-paid entertainers, among the top 25 is the usual crop of successful male entrepreneurs, musicians and actors.

This year, the list was spearheaded by filmmaker Peter Jackson and singer/songwriters Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Neil Young, Lindsey Buckingham, Blake Shelton and Bob Dylan.

Why? Because they’re all “sellouts”.

For the likes of Jay-Z, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kanye West, Forbes says it’s not their singing, rapping or acting that lands them on the list, but their “selling champagne, tequila and sneakers”.

“There has never been a better time to be a sellout, especially if you’re a superstar holding the rights to decades of hits,” Forbes said.

“Almost half of the top 25 earners, including Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson and rocker Bruce Springsteen, secured their spots in the ranks by unloading all or pieces of their studios or music catalogues.”

But among the standout performers this year were three women (and a fourth if you include Friends co-producer Marta Kauffman who ranked as part of a trio), US actor Reese Witherspoon, TV producer Shonda Rhimes and singer Taylor Swift, who have all made it into Forbes‘ top 25 ‘Highest-Paid Entertainers of 2022’.

And all for very different reasons.

The power trio

Witherspoon is now the wealthiest actress in the world, coming in at No.12, earning $US115 million ($159 million) last year alone.

Forbes reported the Legally Blonde A-lister sold her female-focused production company Hello Sunshine to private equity firm Blackstone at a $US900 million ($1.2 billion) valuation in August and still has a stake.

Witherspoon, 45, who most recently played Bradley Jackson alongside Jennifer Aniston’s Alex Levy in the Emmy Award-winning original series The Morning Show, got a reported $US20 million ($27 million) from just 10 episodes of Season 2 last year.

With a total worth of about $500 million with her savvy business decisions, Forbes says Witherspoon is “one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, and can command sky-high pay”.

“She earns at least $1 million an episode for her television work – she’s getting $US1.2 million ($1.6 million) per episode for producing and starring in Apple TV+’s The Morning Show, according to industry insiders – and millions more for film roles.

“She’s a popular endorser, earning top dollar for her work in commercials,” Forbes reported.

After securing the Blackstone deal, she shared the news to her 27 million Instagram followers as to why she started the business in the first place.

“I started this company to change the way all women are seen in media. Over the past few years, we have watched our mission thrive through books, TV, film and social platforms,” Witherspoon wrote.

“Today, we’re taking a huge step forward by partnering with Blackstone, which will enable us to tell even more entertaining, impactful and illuminating stories about women’s lives globally.”

TV producer Shonda Rhimes is also on a financial roll.

She comes in at No.18 with earnings last year of $US81 million ($112 million).

Forbes says the Bridgerton producer “made a bet on herself when she signed with Netflix in 2017 and wowed executives there with one of the streamer’s most-talked-about pandemic releases”.

She went on to make Inventing Anna, starring Ozark‘s Julia Garner and “continues to receive hefty residuals from ABC for Grey’s Anatomy“.

Swift just sneaks into the top 25 earning $US52 million ($72 million), but she joined many of the men and didn’t create anything new, making “most of her money re-recording albums she first released a decade ago”, according to Forbes.

Streaming services pay big  to secure popular TV series

Forbes points out that music libraries “aren’t the only pieces of content selling for far more than a song”.

“In the past two years, major streaming services have spent some $3.7 billion to secure the rights to TV hits such as Friends and Law & Order, helping land the creators of both shows on this year’s entertainers list.”

Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who created the 25-year-old “cheap to make” hit South Park came in at No.6, making $US210 million ($290 million) last year.

In August, they signed a six-year, $US900 million ($1.24 billion) deal with Paramount+.

And Friends producers Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane made a combined $US82 million ($113 million), settling in nicely at No.17.

“The trio continues to cash in with a deal on the streamer that locked up the laughs for $US425 million ($588 million),” Forbes noted.

So, there we have it.

The 25 highest-paid entertainers raked in a combined $US4.4 billion ($6 billion) before taxes and fees in 2021, with most doing it “without creating anything new”.

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