It’s no laughing matter. The big news is NBC’s venerable Tonight Show has killed — 20 jobs, that is, and host Jay Leno has reportedly taken a big pay cut to save jobs. Reports suggest this is not about ratings but about NBC’s new owner wanting to trim costs. Deadline Hollywood’s Nikki Finke reports:
NBC insiders tell me The Tonight Show went through ”downsizing” today and that 20 staffers lost their jobs. Others tell me the number is more like 25, and producers were forced to take pay cuts or lose their jobs. I’ve also learned that Jay Leno took what is being described as a “tremendous” pay cut to “save as many people’s jobs as he could”. Leno’s Tonight Show is consistently the #1 late night talk show in both households and demographics, except for some anomalies when Leno does get beaten.
And that’s despite the fact the network’s primetime ratings have been dismal for many years or that Leno himself was harshly criticized by the media for that January 2010 standoff with Conan O’Brien.
Even so there is one reality here: the days are long gone when The Tonight Show is so intensely dominant that it’s name is synonymous with late night comedy. It is an often solid show, but since Johnny Carson retired and David Letterman bolted, the audience has been fragmented. Plus, this is an era of “narrow-casting,” where the are many more entertainment choices — offered on various entertainment platforms. The Tonight Show’s golden age vanished just as CBS News’ golden age of dominance vanished when Walter Cronkite retired and the ill-suited Dan Rather took over the slot — and networks were challenged by cable news. MORE:
Even so, The Tonight Show has been and still is a cash cow for NBC. So what happened to merit the downsizing? “I don’t think ad sales are off. I just think the people who bought this company, Comcast, wants to go through everything at NBC and get their money back,” an NBC insider tells me. ”It’s hard to go through those kinds of cuts. It’s more a network issue than a late-night issue. And I would say that Jay doesn’t get credit for digging out of a gigantic hole every single night. He’s a very valuable guy to NBC and someday everyone will understand that. He does a great job.”
Even so, the reality is this: the late night shows are still funny, still worth staying up for or recording.
But this is a different era in entertainment and their stars have literally waned since the 1990s. And this is the day with the corporate bigwigs are trying to trim costs as they nervously look over the shoulders at an ailing economy and competing forms of entertainment.
You can’t say that the late night shows are yet “oh, so 20 century” but they don’t appear to be on track to be “oh so late 21st century, either.”
And, yes, if this report is true, Leno — who has endured his share of p.r. snafus over the years (getting the slot over Letterman and being accused he was a better office politician; the O’Brien fiasco) does deserve credit for thinking about the jobs of others.
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Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.