As the No. 1 late-night show for most of the past half-century, "The Tonight Show" has been vital to NBC's fortunes. It was the network's most profitable entertainment program during its 1990s peak, kicking an estimated $100 million to the bottom line annually.
And today? "Tonight" is in trouble. This month, the show saw wide layoffs for only the second time in its 58-year history, with about 20 people losing their jobs and host Jay Leno taking a pay cut that lopped off more than 10% from his estimated $26-million annual salary.
Leno even offered to work for free to save more jobs, according to people familiar with the matter, who said the offer was rejected because executives believed it would set a bad precedent. These people said "Tonight" was now barely breaking even.
"A few years ago, 'Tonight' was like this reliable ATM for NBC," Tom Nunan, a former NBC executive who is now a film producer. "Not anymore."
-- Scott Collins, Los Angeles Times