News broke late Friday night that The Tonight Show would be laying off approximately 20 employees, and that the show would have its per-episode budget slashed by about $600,000. According to reports, the show’s budget had been bumped up to $2.3 million per episode back in 2010 when Leno moved to primetime, and NBC’s new Comcast overlords have decided to roll it back to put it closer to the previous figure. The bigger news, however, was that Jay Leno was taking a “substantial” pay cut to help save as many jobs as possible, as Josh discussed yesterday. From The Los Angeles Times:
Leno, whose current salary is between $25 million and $30 million, volunteered to take a cut if it would save some jobs. A person close to NBC thought Leno’s new salary to be around $20 million.
“Jay’s foremost concern is for the wonderful people who work for ‘The Tonight Show,'” Bruce Bobbins, one of Leno’s spokesmen, said in a statement. “He did what was necessary to ensure their well-being.”
First of all, let me say this: If their source is correct, and Leno offered to take a $5-10 million haircut if it would save some jobs, then that was a very nice thing to do. He certainly didn’t have to do it. He would have been entirely within his rights if he had just let the checks come rolling in while those extra staffers lost their jobs, so, you know, good on him for that.
But here’s the thing.
Jay Leno famously does not spend his Tonight Show salary, choosing instead to live off the money he makes from his busy stand-up career. He literally just puts it all in the bank, saying again as recently as this June that he’s “always done that,” and that it is “his style” to save the money because he views TV as a temporary job (which he has been doing consistently since 1992, for the record). In other words, Jay Leno took a cut in pay from a sum of money he DOESN’T EVEN USE. Conceivably, he could have taken an even larger pay cut, and it wouldn’t have affected him one iota. If I were one of the staffers whose job was not saved, I would be livid about this.
Look, I’m not saying Jay Leno has an obligation to, like, work for free to save his staffers. That’s not fair. He works in a high-profile job in a lucrative industry, and he is entitled to earn a salary relative to his value to his employers. Fine. But he is also a 62-year-old man who presumably has well over $100 million in the bank and will still be stuffing $400,000 per week into his mattress while close to two dozen people who work for him lose their jobs, so let’s not put a halo and wings on the dude, okay?