Jay Leno Extends NBC Contract to 2014 After Budget Cuts and Layoffs at ‘The Tonight Show’

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Jay Leno is taking a big hit on his NBC contract for The Tonight Show. NBC has finally confirmed that his salary has been cut from $30 million to $15 million and that the entire show’s budget has been slashed by 20 percent. This comes on the heels of more than 20 staff layoffs and buzz about what kind of a deal Leno would come out with — or even whether Tonight, which has aired on NBC for more than 50 years, would survive much longer.

NBC’s Entertainment Chief, Robert Greenblatt, confirmed these numbers to the Wall Street Journal and also announced that Leno has extended his contract for another two years, until May 2014.

Greenblatt told WSJ that the Tonight Show cuts were partly due to the inflated budget the show operated under during Leno’s switch to primetime for a brief period of time in 2009 before moving back to late night in early 2010. In the two years since, the late-night show’s budget hadn’t returned to its earlier level. “All we did was bring it back down to pre-primetime levels,” Greenblatt told the Journal.

Where does this leave Leno after his contract ends?

Greenblatt declined to name a specific date for when or even if Leno might leave once his contract is up in 2014. Noting that Leno and CBS rival David Letterman have been facing off for nearly 20 years, Greenblatt said, “I’m sure there will be a day when these guys – Letterman and Leno – wake up and say ‘It’s time for us to exit gracefully.’”

Leno’s been vocal about his disappointment in NBC parent company Comcast’s decision to make budget cuts. He opened his show on Aug. 20 with, “Welcome to The Tonight Show, or as Comcast calls us, The Expendables.”

Leno went on to say, “We’ve consistently been No. 1 in the ratings, and if you know anything about our network, that kind of thing is frowned upon.”

Nonetheless, Leno e-mailed the Journal to say that he was on board with the leaner budget, despite last month’s on-air grumbling. “We are just going to work harder and more efficiently,” he wrote. “Our job is to be sure that none of this shows up on screen.”

Deadline initially reported the cuts on Aug. 17 that Comcast was making the layoffs despite ad sales remaining solid. The company singled out the show’s cost of about $2.3 million a week (amounting to about $100 million per year), arguing that Tonight’s budget should be around $1.7 million per week instead.

Leno made the decision to take a pay cut in order to save some staffers from being let go, but the exact numbers of his new contract hadn’t been confirmed until now.


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