Salhany was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to father Halim "Hal" Jacob Mady, who was Jordanian, and mother Matilda "Tillie" Mady (née Thomas), who was Lebanese-Syrian. Her parents owned a grocery store in Cleveland.
Salhany graduated from Brush High School in Lyndhurst, Ohio, in 1964. Salhany attended Kent State University but after marrying, did not continue her education after more than a year.
In 1967, Salhany got a job as a secretary to the Program Manager at an independent TV station in Cleveland called WKBF-TV. She was continuously promoted, and after training by her boss, when she was 24, she took over his position as Program Manager of the station. In 1975, Salhany became program manager of the Boston TV station, WLVI-TV.
In 1979, Salhany become Vice President for Programming for Taft Broadcasting Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Salhany was responsible for bringing then local Chicago talk-show host, Oprah Winfrey to Taft in a syndication deal.
In 1985, Salhany moved to Paramount Domestic Television in Los Angeles as president and supervised the production of shows like Entertainment Tonight, The Arsenio Hall Show, Hard Copy, and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
In 1991, former Paramount colleague and newly hired FOX Broadcasting CEO Barry Diller asked Salhany to become Chairman of Twentieth Television. When Diller was fired four months later, Rupert Murdoch gave her Diller's job. The position was Chairman of FOX News Network.
In 1993, Salhany was responsible for the development the late night show, The Chevy Chase Show, but it was canceled after 6 weeks on air, and was not well received by critics or affiliates alike. Although Salhany took the network from four nights of programming to seven nights of programming, and was responsible for creating the TV show, The X-Files, which was very successful, and brought the NFL to the network, she left after three and a half years on her five-year contract, saying the Murdoch breached terms of her contract by not maintaining reporting structure. Salhany claimed Murdoch, in meetings in front of others, asked if she was a "fem-Nazi" and what her husband would think of things.
She moved back to Paramount as they were about to launch the United Paramount Network, also known as the UPN—which later merged with The WB. Salhany was Chief Executive Officer of UPN from 1995 to 1997.
In 1997, after leaving UPN, Salhany moved to Boston, where her husband is based, and started a media consultancy business called JH Media.
From 1999 to 2002: Salhany was President/Chief Executive Officer of LifeFX Networks, Inc., a company that animated faces.
In 2003, Salhany co-founded Echo Bridge Entertainment, LLC.ALSAC/St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Professional Advisory Board Member
American Media, Inc., Director
1997-2002: Compaq Computer Corporation, Board Member until its merger with Hewlett-Packard Company in 2002
2002-2011: Hewlett-Packard Company, Board Member
Emerson College, Trustee
ION Media Networks, Board Member
Lasell College, Advisory Council
Screens Entertainment Association, Board Member
1992: ALSAC/St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
1993: Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame
1995: American Jewish Committee, Sherrill C. Corwin Human Relations Award (first female recipient)
1995: American Women in Radio and Television, Silver Satellite Award
1996: Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors, Executive of the Year
1997: HELP Humanitarian Award
1997: Cable Financial Management Organization, Avatar Award
National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Silver Circle Award
2013: Lasell College, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters
Salhany is married to Boston restaurateur John Polcari, Jr. of Regina Pizzeria and Polcari's. They have two sons, Hal and Jake, who they adopted from Beirut, Lebanon. She was previously married in the late 1960s.