Queens of Daytime

More weeks than not, 67-year-old Judge Judy beats Oprah's ratings—and she's not going anywhere. Rebecca Dana on her $100 million deal, how she met her husband, and why she can't stand Judge Wapner.

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AP Photo

Judge Judy

You might not know it from all the attention paid her competitors, but Judge Judy rules daytime TV. Her feisty courtroom show has drawn an average of 6.6 million viewers a day this season, putting her neck-in-neck with talk-show queen Oprah Winfrey (whose numbers got an unnatural bump from Sarah Palin’s blockbuster visit last fall). Judge Judy has bested The Oprah Winfrey Show for 11 of the last 14 weeks, and has been the top-rated courtroom show 700 weeks in a row. Take that, Wapner!

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The Queen of Talk is no slouch herself, also drawing an average of 6.6 million over the course of the season beginning in September, 2009, according to the Nielsen Company. Winfrey may have a magazine, a cable channel, a worshipful audience and a lot of high-profile guests, but more often than not this year, Judge Judy’s steady supply of no-nonsense justice has won more viewers. Last year, Winfrey announced she would be giving up her talk show in 2011 to focus on cable channel the Oprah Winfrey Network, or OWN.

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Kelly Ripa

Far from just Regis Philbin’s sidekick, Kelly Ripa has become a major television star since she joined Live with Regis and Kelly in 2001. The syndicated talk show has drawn an average of 3.5 million viewers this season so far. Now the pint-size former soap star and her husband, Mark Consuelos, have a production company of their own—and two shows in development with cable network TLC, including one called Mom Inc., which Ripa will host.

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Ellen Degeneres

Since joining the judging panel of American Idol this season, DeGeneres has become one of the most powerful women in network television, hosting her talk show by day and settling in next to Simon Cowell at night. The former standup comic and 12-time Emmy winner is a force of nature in the TV business, but the ratings for The Ellen DeGeneres Show land her in fourth place among the queens of daytime, with an average of 3.2 million viewers tuning in this season.

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Judge Marilyn Milian

The tough-but-tender Marilyn Milian brought a feminine perspective when she inherited Joseph Wapner’s The People’s Court (after Ed Koch and Judge Judy hubby Jerry had their turns at the bench). A former Miami Circuit Court judge and a native of Queens, Milian brings a little of Judge Judy’s sass to the more traditional court show. Her audience this season has averaged around 2.8 million viewers per episode.

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Rachel Ray

Winfrey protégé Rachel Ray has built an empire of her own around quick, low-cost recipes and products. Around 2.3 million people tune in to watch Rachel Ray, her daytime cooking and chat show, according to Nielsen. The cheerful New York native, a former candy-counter clerk at Macy’s, also has a magazine, a number of cookbooks, a full product line and three series on the Food Network.

Judge Lynn Toler

No one makes breakups more fun than Judge Lynn Toler, the host of Divorce Court, technically the longest-running court show on television. Just under 2 million people tune in each day to watch Toler, a graduate of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, hear jilted spouses battle over relationships gone wrong. Last year, Toler expanded her television presence, becoming a co-executive producer of Wedlock or Deadlock, a new syndicated show based on her divorce expertise.

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Wendy Williams

Popular radio personality Wendy Williams launched her syndicated daytime talk show in July 2009, and has already built up an impressive fan base, with 1.6 million viewers on average per episode. The Wendy Williams Show features the usual array of celebrity interviews, cooking segments, and musical performances. Williams has also written two bestselling autobiographical books and several novels.

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Jeanine Pirro

After a long career as a district attorney and judge in New York, Judge Jeanine Pirro launched Judge Jeanine Pirro in the fall of 2008. The show has built up a respectable following, drawing an average of 1.4 million viewers per episode this season. Pirro seems to have found her zone in daytime television, after a pretty dismal campaign in 2006, when she ran against Andrew Cuomo for New York state attorney general.

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Martha Stewart

Rounding out the list is lifestyle doyenne Martha Stewart, who has made a valiant comeback since the insider-trading scandal that led to her time in the slammer but who’s daytime chat-and-chew show Martha has drawn a meager 822,000 viewers on average this season. But the domestic diva and founder of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia has never seemed overly concerned with her ratings. Her empire spans a wide array of business ventures, including a magazine, books, and branded collections at Home Depot and a number of other national retailers.