Is Selina Scott really worth pounds 1m a year?

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The Independent Online
Sky Television seems to have finally asked the question that has vexed many people for a long time: why is Selina Scott paid so much?

The satellite television channel has confirmed it is pulling her late- night celebrity chat show, The Selina Scott Show, off air just six weeks after it launched. The programme will be back on air in July with a new format and will be given an earlier start time in an effort to kick-start the show's flagging ratings.

One tabloid newspaper reported that one of her shows, broadcast on 17 March, had an audience of just 6,000 viewers.

Ms Scott was hired last November by the Rupert Murdoch-owned station amid fanfare and reports in the Murdoch-owned press that she was to be paid pounds 1m for the show.

It was yet another in a long line of allegedly well-paid but low-profile television presenting jobs that Ms Scott has taken in a frenetic career.

She became a national celebrity in 1981 when she was appointed a news reader on News at Ten, at a time when viewers were still more used to gravitas than glamour.

Two years later, she moved to host the BBC's Breakfast Time programme with Frank Bough and has continued ever since to move around for seemingly ever- increasing amounts of money, without anyone being able to say exactly why.

In the mid-Eighties her pay took off when she moved to the United States to host an entertainment gossip show for CBS for a reported $1m (pounds 625,000) salary. Since then her every job change - from the Clothes Show on the BBC to increasingly obscure satellite channels - has been accompanied by reports that she was being paid salaries of pounds 100,000 or pounds 200,000.

A talk-show on satellite station NBC Superchannel lasted just a year until 1996, then a meeting with Sam Chisholm, Sky's hard-man chief executive, brought the latest chat show.

For all the money she is reported to make, indeed perhaps because of it, Ms Scott has been dogged by suggestions that she is all looks and no substance. Her low-brow reputation was set in 1983 when live on television she famously asked Fay Weldon, the chair of the Booker Prize jury, if she had actually read all the books being judged. A moment the BBC cruelly included in its TV Hell programme in 1992.

Her image was not helped by a fawning interview she conducted with the American property millionaire, Donald Trump, which prompted him later to write a letter describing her as "ingratiating" and "insecure". Stung by a painful profile in 1992, Ms Scott tried to defend herself by writing an article for the Times newspaper. She denied earning pounds 300,000 a year from two shows, but rather blew her chance of public sympathy by comparing herself with "many other single working women", and pleading: "I have absolutely no job security ... If I am ill I am not paid. I have no company pension and no company car."

In view of this week's news from Sky her 1992 article may also have created a hostage to fortune: "The only real test of talent in television, as in the theatre, is the ability to put bums on seats. Broadcasting organisations are not uniformly stupid. Cilla Black is ITV's highest paid star because she delivers a huge audience." Something which Ms Scott no longer seems to do.

What chat show hosts earn

The richest chat show host in the world is also the most imitated. David Letterman cut himself a $14m deal with CBS when he moved from the NBC network.

The best-paid presenter on British TV is Cilla Black, whose Blind Date is in its 13th year for ITV and is indispensable to their schedule. She is estimated to make pounds 3.5m out of her present two-year contract.

ITV has also made millionaires of Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan, who were reported to make pounds 1.5m for the daytime show This Morning and the occasional evening interview.

On the BBC, until Michael Parkinson returns, the best-paid tend to be newcomers. Ruby Wax is reported to be on pounds 500,000, while Frank Skinner gets pounds 300,000 for his show.

Old stagers Terry Wogan and Esther Rantzen struggle by on a paltry pounds 200,000 and pounds 350,000 respectively.