No one has come close to replicating the power and fortune amassed by legendary TV hosts Dick Clark, Merv Griffin and Oprah Winfrey — yet. But American Idol's Ryan Seacrest is on his way, and others are right behind.
Today's TV hosts aren't satisfied with just their day jobs. If you don't have multiple shows, a line of licensed merchandise and a production company, you're not trying hard enough. It's all about creating empires, and hosts, from Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa to Dr. Drew Pinsky and Carson Daly, are running their careers like booming businesses.
Octagon Entertainment managing director John Ferriter, whose clients include Piers Morgan and Pinsky, says the success of reality shows over the last decade, starting with Survivor and American Idol, triggered this generation of mogul hosts. "If they have the talent, aspiration and willpower, and put together a smart team, they can parlay it into the perfect business," he says.
In using TV-hosting jobs as a launch pad, these emcees are all looking to reconstruct the success of the original titans in the field, Clark and Griffin, both of whom went on to oversee major production companies and dabble in all sorts of businesses. "They were able to combine their personal celebrity with their business acumen," Ferriter says.
But by the 1990s, TV hosts were pretty much satisfied with being, well, TV hosts. The idea of nurturing a new generation of hosting moguls came when Daly moved the pop-culture needle in the late-'90s heyday of MTV's TRL. His agents, who included Ferriter, came up with a plan to push the host in a number of directions — including a production company, new TV and radio projects and sponsorship possibilities. But Daly says he wasn't comfortable "trying to be all things to all people and omnipresent," and he eventually took on new representation. So Daly's old team took their plan and instead turned their attention to Seacrest.
"It was clear the kind of career he wanted," says Ferriter, who once represented the American Idol host. "He wanted a cross of what Dick and Merv had done." At the time, Seacrest was mainly known as a Los Angeles-based radio DJ. His agents hatched a plan to get him on American Idol and use that as a springboard for something much bigger.
It worked: Seacrest reinvented the role of a TV host. He now emcees American Idol while simultaneously being the managing editor and lead anchor of E! News, hosting two syndicated radio shows and executive producing reality shows like Keeping Up With the Kardashians, pulling down at least $55 million annually. He's also partnering with AEG to launch a cable network and is rumored to be on the short list for a variety of additional jobs, including hosting Today. "It's brilliant what they've done with Ryan," says veteran hosting agent Babette Perry. "It will certainly be copied."
Among those starting to make the grade are Morgan, who jumps between America's Got Talent and his CNN talk show, Piers Morgan Tonight; Cooper, who just launched the daytime talk show Anderson in addition to anchoring CNN's Anderson Cooper 360; Pinsky, with VH1's Celebrity Rehab, HLN's Dr. Drew and The CW's Dr. Drew's Lifechangers; Tom Bergeron, host of ABC's Dancing With the Stars and America's Funniest Home Videos; and The View cohost Joy Behar, who also toplines HLN's The Joy Behar Show.
Elisabeth Hasselbeck turned her gig on The View into a springboard for licensing products like exercise equipment and a clothing line; she also just began hosting CMT's Angels Among Us. Phil Keoghan has used his Amazing Race popularity to shoot a documentary and peddle both luggage and nutrition bars. "The last thing you want to be is a host that's defined by one show," says Keoghan, who has developed a brand that encompasses books, TV shows and speeches.
Then there are icons from other businesses, like the modeling and food worlds, who have morphed into TV powerhouses. Gordon Ramsay launched a production company after fronting several food-related shows in the U.K. and the U.S.; Heidi Klum has turned her Project Runway success into an empire. Other hosts looking to expand their domain include Top Chef's Padma Lakshmi, ESPN's Erin Andrews and Top Chef Masters' Curtis Stone.
Even actors like Ripa (who hosts Live! With Regis and Kelly and has a production company), Mario Lopez (Extra, America's Best Dance Crew, H8R), Alison Sweeney (The Biggest Loser, Days of Our Lives) and Nick Cannon (America's Got Talent, Up All Night) are deciding that hosting offers them a long-lasting and profitable career. And a new crop of fresh faces, including The X Factor's Steve Jones, are plotting their careers very carefully. "The money isn't bad in hosting," says Perry. "Then you add these licensing deals, and they get a percentage of the product."
Another host following in Seacrest's footsteps is, ironically, Daly. With the success of NBC's The Voice, a thriving radio career and the long- running Last Call With Carson Daly, he says he feels "older and wiser" about where to take his career. "I'm back to the way my life felt 10 years ago," Daly says. "I'm grateful for the jobs I have."