The Telegraph reports Jeremy Clarkson is now officially the BBC's highest-paid talent. Last year, the Top Gear presenter brought home around $5.5 million at current conversion rates, besting Graham Norton and Gary Lineker at around $3.1 million each. While critics may cry foul at Clarkson's escalated earnings, the broadcaster says much of that cash spawns from the success of the Top Gear brand.
Clarkson works to sell the show around the globe with re-runs, spin-offs like our own Top Gear spinoff in the U.S. and live shows, not to mention a merchandizing empire that includes more than 150 licensed products. The Telegraph reports over four million Top Gear DVDs have been sold worldwide.
Technically, Clarkson is only paid around $782,000 to host the show, a figure that puts him behind other big names in the broadcaster's stable. While the BBC won't say exactly how many of its employees earn between $1.5 million and $7.8 million per year, The Telegraph deduces there are likely between three and six on-air stars pulling down that kind of cash.
And while Clarkson's $5.5M take-home is a boatload of cash, the UK government-owned BBC offers salaries that are well below what many celebrities earn in the U.S. television industry. For example, TV Guide points out that former CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric knocked down a $15M dollar payday, and so did Regis Philbin for his role on Live! with Regis and Kelly, although the latter two shot more episodes than Top Gear. The hit NBC sitcom Friends is also understood to have paid its stars $1M per episode in its final season – and that was back in 2002.