Late-night TV icon Jay Leno took a major pay cut this week, in a bid to spare Tonight Show employees from layoffs — but nearly two dozen staffers were still shown the door, Deadline.com reported late Friday night.
The show’s producers were reportedly forced to choose between taking pay cuts or losing their jobs altogether, with somewhere between 20 and 25 opting for the latter. The downsizing comes as a surprise, given the Tonight Show’s late-night ratings dominance in recent years.
An NBC source told Deadline that the cuts likely stem from “a network issue” rather than “a late-night issue.” It also doesn’t seem to be an issue with Leno himself, despite the harsh criticism he’s faced in recent years, following the Great Timeslot Debacle of 2010. Leno began his stint on The Tonight Show in 1992, following Johnny Carson’s 30-year reign. In 2009, Leno temporarily passed the torch to Conan O’Brien, before the network asked the newcomer to move back the show’s time slot to give priority to a Leno talk show. O’Brien refused and headed over to TBS, with Leno returning to his original late-night slot in 2010.
According to Deadline, the pay cut Leno agreed to this week was “tremendous,” with his new annual salary resting somewhere between an estimated $27 and $30 million. Apart from his hosting gig, Leno also reportedly brings in between $15 and $20 million a year from personal appearances and stand-up performances.
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