TV show creators and producers are a dime a dozen these days, as more and more content is being thrown out into the ether with the hopes that something will grab the attention of the increasingly restless viewing public. Some elite television visionaries, however, are continuous hit-makers, bringing networks consistently great – and lucrative – TV time and time again. These are the ‘idea’ people who put a golden, universally marketable concept out there and let the magic happen as their shows gain popularity and serious revenue.
One thing that most successful TV creators have in common, of course, is the fact that almost their entire body of work has done well, to the point that their names carry the weight of a success which becomes almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. The best TV show creators have a loyal following, a stellar reputation and a near-guarantee of being well received. The following are 10 such TV show creators who have the most accurate golden touches in the business; they are the richest living TV show creators and producers on the planet.
10. Matt Groening – $500 million
Our list starts off strong at the half-billion-dollar-mark with cartoonist and producer Matt Groening. Groening is of course most famous for creating the world’s favorite yellow-skinned family, The Simpsons. The show got its start on the Tracey Ullman show (produced by James L. Brooks) before spinning off on its own.
The Simpsons holds the titles of the longest-running American sitcom (running from 1989 to present), the longest-running American animated program, and the longest-running American scripted primetime TV series. It is widely considered to be one of the greatest TV shows of all time, having won 28 Primetime Emmy Awards. Matt Groening also created the successful animated sitcom Futurama.
9. James L. Brooks – $500 million
Tied with Groening is the American producer James L. Brooks. His big break came when he created The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1970. The show was one of the first to feature an independent working woman as its lead, and was critically acclaimed. Brooks went on to create two spin-offs with his producer friend Allan Burns: ‘Rhoda’, a comedy and ‘Lou Grant’, a drama.
Brooks then co-created the sitcom Taxi and moved into feature films, where he produced, directed and wrote the Academy Award winning Terms of Endearment. He founded his own TV and film company, Gracie Films, in 1984 and produced The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987 (which gave us The Simpsons). He has won 20 Emmy awards.
8. Simon Fuller – $580 million
Simon Fuller is best known as being the creator of the Idol franchise, first in the form of Pop Idol in the UK, and then American Idol in the US. The franchise arguably established the format of competition-based reality television for the 21st century, won numerous awards and broke records. The franchise has been sold to over 100 countries around the world, and has an estimated value of $8 billion with endorsements.
Fuller first came to prominence as manager of the Spice Girls. He has made much of his wealth as a very successful music manager, working with artists like Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears and Katy Perry. He was certified in 2008 as the most successful British music manager of all time by Billboard magazine.
7. Chuck Lorre – $600 million
Chuck Lorre is a sitcom mastermind, having created many of the world’s most popular TV series since the 1990s, including The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, Dharma & Greg, Cybill, and Grace Under Fire. He was also an executive producer of Roseanne and Mike & Molly. Here’s an interesting tidbit: Lorre got one of his early roles composing the soundtrack to the legendary 1987 TV series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Two and a Half Men became the highest-rated sitcom in America, although that record probably doesn’t still stand after the show lost star Charlie Sheen to a serious drug and alcohol problem which culminated in him publicly spewing hate towards Lorre during a radio interview. Nonetheless, Lorre probably isn’t hurting too much, with over half a billion dollars in his pocket.
6. Norman Lear – $700 million
Before there was Chuck Lorre of the ’90s, there was Norman Lear of the ’70s. He created and produced some of the most popular sitcoms of that era, including The Jeffersons, All in the Family, Good Times, Maude, Sanford and Son, and more. Besides being a TV hit-maker, Lear – who turns 92 this month – is also a political activist and founded the advocacy organization People For the American Way in 1981 to support First Amendment rights and progressive causes. He is credited with helping to give many African Americans career opportunities in the TV industry.
After an initial run of bad ratings with All in the Family, the show ended up taking home several Emmy awards and became the top-rated TV show between 1971 and 1976. Sanford and Son was based on a British sitcom, with the setting changed to Los Angeles and the characters to African-Americans, and it was an instant hit. As President Bill Clinton said when awarding Lear with the National Medal of Arts in 1999, “Norman Lear has held up a mirror to American society and changed the way we look at it.”
5. Jerry Seinfeld – $800 million
One half of the creative force behind Seinfeld, Jerry is also one of the most successful comedians of all time. The vocal comedian got his start doing stand-up in New York, and even made a highly praised appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1981, which led to regular appearances on that show and others.
Then came Seinfeld, the powerhouse sitcom that ruled as the most popular TV show during its 9 season stint between 1989 and 1998. The popularity of the “show about nothing” persists today, as one of the most syndicated re-run shows – which contributes nicely to Jerry Seinfeld’s huge net worth.
4. Jerry Bruckheimer – $850 million
Jerry Bruckheimer is responsible for some of the flashiest, most action-packed films and TV series around. He introduced the world to CSI: Crime Scene Investigator, CSI: Miami, CSI: NY, Without a Trace, Cold Case, and the US version of The Amazing Race. At one point, three of his series ranked in the top 10 of US ratings, a unique feat in television.
Bruckheimer showed us the technical, cerebral sides of crime scene investigation, bringing viewers a behind the scenes look at the guys who catch murderers and criminals. He also produced some of recent memory’s most successful action-packed films, such as the Pirates of the Caribbean and National Treasure franchises, Armageddon, Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, Bad Boys, Black Hawk Down, and Pearl Harbor.
3. Larry David – $900 million
Here is the other half of the creative force behind Seinfeld. It’s hard to imagine that Larry David has more money than the guy whose name is the title of the show, but that’s indeed the case: David was the head writer and executive producer of the show from 1989 to 1996 (and the character George is supposedly based on him).
His work has earned him a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1993. After his time as a stand-up comedian, he went into TV comedy writing, where he wrote ABC’s Fridays and for Saturday Night Live briefly. David has gained further recognition (and added to his fortune) with his immensely popular and lauded HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm, a ‘mockumentary style’-inspired comedy in which he stars as an amusing version of himself.
2. John de Mol, Jr. – $2.2 billion
This rich TV producer is also one of the 500 richest people in the world. De Mol is a Dutch media tycoon, a well-known personality in the Netherlands, and – crucially – one of the men behind the production companies Endemol and Talpa. From 1997 to 1999, he developed the highly popular reality TV series Big Brother with his own production company.
In 1994 he merged with another company to form Endemol, though his company still functioned on its own. He then went on to produce Fear Factor, Deal or No Deal, 1 vs. 100, and Love Letters for Endemol, and most recently, the incredibly successful The Voice of Holland in 2010. The formula of most of these series were sold to several other countries around the globe. De Mol sold his shares of Endemol in 2000 to Telefonica, but continued on as their creative director until 2004. In 2007, he returned as one of the main shareholders of the company.
1. Oprah Winfrey – $3 billion
The wealthiest show creator of all time – and the only woman in the top ten – is perhaps also one of the most influential woman in the world. Oprah Winfrey, the media mogul, talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist, is the wonder woman of TV personalities. Dubbed the “Queen of All Media,” she has been ranked the richest African-American of the 20th century and the greatest black philanthropist in American history.
Born into poverty in rural Mississippi, Oprah got her break by co-starring in Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple, in which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Since then, she hasn’t stopped. The Oprah Winfrey Show revolutionized the tabloid talk show by introducing a more intimate, confessional form of communication, and went on for 25 strong years. She would go on to form her own network, as well as thrusting Dr. Phil into his own show (created by her) after he impressed her on his numerous visits to her show. “The Oprah Effect” as it is called – the public influence of Winfrey’s opinions and endorsements – has the continued power of changing the world over.
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