£35m-a-year chat show deal for Clinton

AS PRESIDENT of the United States of America, Bill Clinton’s colourful private life ensured he was the guest every chat show host wanted to bag. So keen were people to hear his stories that once he left office, he could command up to £300,000 a time on the corporate lecture circuit. But his biggest pay day may be yet to come - and this time it could be Mr Clinton who is asking the questions.

More than 18 months after he left office, Mr Clinton is still so much in demand that the CBS television network is considering paying him 35 million a year to host a chat show.

The massive sum would dwarf anything earned by his predecessors in the Oval Office and make the 6 million he picked up for public speaking last year look like small change.

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Mr Clinton’s unique mixture of popularity and notoriety would catapult him into the ranks of the top television earners, outstripping David Letterman’s rather meagre 20 million a year deal and Jay Leno’s 13 million a year. Only Oprah Winfrey, who is said to pull in 100 million a year, would out-earn the former president.

But the sheer scale of his financial demands have already scared off the NBC television network, which pulled out of talks with Mr Clinton last month, and it is unclear how close CBS is to finalising any deal.

Potential stumbling blocks include the Clinton team’s insistence their man earns a minimum of 65 million over two years, and concern in some quarters that Mr Clinton could alienate Republican viewers and those individuals offended by some of his behaviour.

NBC executives said they were confident Mr Clinton would have agreed to do a show if the terms had been right.

"I honestly believed he would do it," said one. "I never believed his interest was bogus."

Mr Clinton’s associates said he had become tired of relying on speaking engagements for cash and was keen to start a new career as a talk-show host, but serious differences still exist over money.

Mr Clinton’s demands would make him the highest paid first-time talk-show host but his lawyer, Robert Barnett, said he was yet to make up his mind.

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"The president [sic] has received an enormous number of offers from broadcast television, cable television, the internet, print and radio," he said. "When the time comes, a proper announcement will be forthcoming."

According to the New York Times, Mr Clinton’s advisers are split on whether he should go ahead with the show. Those from the west coast appear strongly in favour and are pushing ahead with negotiations, but there is scepticism among those on the east coast that the former president would commit himself.

Mr Clinton himself has also sounded a few notes of caution for those hoping to see him on the small screen in the near future. In May, he admitted he did not really believe the talks would ever come to anything.

The New York Times quoted one NBC executive as saying the Clinton team wanted to nail down a deal as quickly as possible.

"They wanted to make a deal before they had a programme," he said. "What they were talking about was a talk show but a weird talk show. They wanted a public affairs show, but there might be a band."

There were, apparently, suggestions Mr Clinton could even put his saxophone playing skills to good use to entertain the audience between guests.

"You think maybe he could be a force for good," said the NBC executive. "In between playing the sax or singing with Carly Simon or whatever he’s going to do, maybe he could do some great things."

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In his first year out of office, Mr Clinton earned 6.01 million for 59 speeches, including 300,000 for a three-day engagement in Tokyo, while his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, earned 1.8 million last year as part of a 5.2 million advance for her memoirs.

Mr Clinton’s predecessor as president, George Bush, has also done well since leaving office. One company paid him with stock in lieu of a 52,000 speaking fee, only to see the shares soar in value to 9 million. Ronald Reagan also cashed in on his popularity after leaving office, collecting, among many other fees, 1.3 million for a nine-day speaking trip to Tokyo.

Oprah tops chat show salaries

William Lyons

EVEN the sums talked about for Bill Clinton are dwarfed by the earnings of the grand dame of the US talk show, Oprah Winfrey.

Her eponymous show, broadcast in more than 130 countries, has made her a famous name across the globe. Arguably the US’s most famous - and most powerful - woman, her earnings are estimated at 100 million a year.

The Oprah Winfrey Show is the highest-rated talk show in TV history.

David Letterman, the comedy man who turned into a talk-show legend, is another massive earner. He has recently signed a five-year renewal with CBS for The Late Show with David Letterman, worth some 230 million, with more than 100 million of that going straight to Letterman, netting him around 20 million a year.

Jay Leno, the mercurial host of the Tonight Show is a little way behind, picking up just 13 million a year.

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The earnings of Phil Donahue, whose daytime programme revolutionised the talk-show format when it made its debut in 1969 - there was no band, no sidekick, and only one guest - stand at a more modest 1 million. Donahue was also seen as the first host to recognise women were interested in more than "mascara tips and cake recipes".

In the UK, Michael Parkinson, the grandfather of the British chat show, earns a relatively paltry 120,000 a year for his late night programme, despite returning to the straight-talking format almost 30 years after his heyday.

Robert Kilroy-Silk’s confessional programme on the BBC draws heavily on the Oprah format.

The presenter, who was Labour MP for Ormskirk from 1974 to 1983, has carved out a lucrative second career. Although coy about his earnings, the programme pulls in an estimated 2 million a year, with Kilroy-Silk earning a healthy six-figure sum.

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