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Jay Leno's Sticking Around: NBC Confirms Pay Cut, Contract Extension Through 2014

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Sep 10, 2012 | 6:41am EDT

Jay Leno Tonight Show Pay CutThere was a point at which hosting The Tonight Show was tantamount to being on top of the world. When Johnny Carson hosted the show from 1962 until 1992, he became a national icon. But the landscape isn't so centered on the comedy standby anymore, and it shows. Just take a look at the massive pay cut imposed on the show's current host, Jay Leno. NBC representatives confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that Leno did, in fact, take a 50 percent pay cut followed by 20 employees being cut from his Los Angeles staff. And as brutal as it seems, it's all part of the late night game. 

Leno is sharing the late night audience with competition like Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Late Show With David Letterman, Conan on TBS, and The Daily Show companion The Colbert Report on Comedy Central. It's no longer just a battle of the big-time network shows and their chuckle-worthy hosts, and while Tonight is still at the top, its share is significantly smaller thanks to the bevy of other choices. Accordingly, NBC has adjusted the budget. 

Reportedly, Leno's pay cut to $15 million dollars cuts the show's annual $100 million budget by 20 percent, which makes sense when considering that Tonight's ad revenue has decreased by 37 percent in the last five years. 

And in the face of all this downsizing and decreasing budgets, Leno is not only accepting a lower salary, but he's signed on to stick around until May 2014. (Though, how much money could he really need? If he gets desperate, he can always just liquidate his absurdly large collection of old cars.) But this acceptance of a less profitable late night is an interesting one: Leno, despite retiring, unretiring, and creating plenty of Team Coco animosity, has been the host for just over 20 years. Yet, when it comes time to take a cut, he accepts it and re-ups on his contract. 

Could Louis C.K.'s melancholy, dark look at the shelf-date of a comedy career on his show Louie be coming eerily true? Does there come a point in a comedy career in which a comedian must realize that they simply must take what they can get, even if it's not exactly what they want? Of course, there's always the option that Leno simply loves doing The Tonight Show and he'd rather stick around for less money than throw his lot in somewhere else. 

Still, he can't rest too comfortably. NBC was mum on the question of Leno's longevity at Tonight. He already retired from the series once, and NBC's not sure when it will happen again. NBC's entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt tells WSJ, "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.'" That day apparently isn't today, but with heavy cuts and the constant undermining of the late night game by online and DVR viewership, the time for a graceful exit may be sooner rather than later.

Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler

[Photo Credit: NBC]

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