Leno takes pay cut to save TV staff

The Tonight Show has shed about two dozen workers, prompting host Jay Leno to accept a pay cut to spare other staffers as NBC clamps down on expenses.

NBC Universal imposed the cuts on Friday, according to a person familiar with the moves.

The payroll purge affected about 10% of the roughly 200 people who work on The Tonight Show, still the top-rated US late-night TV programme. Viewers should not notice any changes in programming at The Tonight Show, the person said.

NBC Universal is trying to improve its financial performance under the ownership of Comcast, which bought the entertainment company last year.

Leno had been making 25-30 million dollars a year (£16 million -£19 million) as the host of The Tonight Show. His salary will be reduced to about 20 million dollars (£12.8 million) after making the job-saving concessions. Leno also brings in substantial income touring as a stand-up comedian.

"Jay's foremost concern is for the wonderful people who work with him at The Tonight Show," said Bruce Bobbins, a spokesman for Leno. "He did what was necessary to ensure their wellbeing."

Several other staffers on The Tonight Show also absorbed pay cuts.

The show's cost-cutting measures were first reported by Deadline Hollywood, a website that tracks the entertainment industry.

Comcast bought a controlling interest in NBC Universal for 6.2 billion dollars in cash and several cable-TV channels valued at 7.25 billion dollars. Besides its TV network and several cable channels, NBC also owns the Universal Pictures movie studio and theme parks. Comcast, which is based in Philadelphia, makes most of its money selling cable TV and high-speed internet access.

Despite its solid ratings, The Tonight Show has not been a big moneymaker. That prompted the cuts on Friday, which are expected to trim the programme's weekly budget by about 600,000 dollars, or 25%, to 1.7 million dollars (£1 million) - back to its levels of a few years ago.