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'Tonight Show' and Jay Leno get hit with budget cuts

August 18, 2012|By Joe Flint | This post has been updated. See the note below for details.
  • Jay Leno, pictured here with First Lady Michelle Obama, is taking a pay cut.
Jay Leno, pictured here with First Lady Michelle Obama, is taking a pay cut. (NBC )

"Tonight Show" host Jay Leno is taking a significant reduction in pay and roughly two dozen staffers are being let go as part of a major budget restructuring at the late-night talk show.

Although "The Tonight Show" remains the top-rated late-night program, from a financial standpoint it is only break-even, according to a person familiar with the economics of the show. One reason for that is that the production budget of the show was not reduced when Leno moved back to late night after his ill-fated stint in prime time during the 2009-10 television season. 

Leno's current salary is between $25 million and $30 million and he volunteered to take a cut if it would save some jobs. A person close to the network thought Leno's new salary is likely around $20 million. Bruce Bobbins, one of Leno's spokesmen, declined to comment.

[Updated at 10:49 a.m., Aug. 18: In a statement later Bobbins said, "Jay's foremost concern is for the wonderful people who work for 'The Tonight Show.' He did what was necessary to ensure their well-being."]

While an NBC spokeswoman declined to comment on the situation, the job losses are said to be between 20 and 25 people and many other senior staffers also agreed to pay cuts.

The weekly budget for Leno's prime time show was approximately $2.3 million and it stayed there when he returned to late night and Conan O'Brien was sent packing. The budget now will be closer to $1.7 million, which is in the range of what it was during Leno's previous late-night stint.

Leno is not the first late-night host to agree to a salary reduction. In 2009, CBS restructured David Letterman's deal and reduced his salary and the budget of the show.

Whether NBC will look to other areas to make additional cuts is yet to be determined. Earlier this year, the network trimmed its marketing and promotions staff.

News of the cuts were first reported by Deadline Hollywood.

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