The NBC network Friday instituted budget cuts at "The Tonight Show," a television mainstay that has played home to Jack Paar, Johnny Carson and now Jay Leno.
Between 20 and 25 "Tonight" staff members were laid off, according to a person with direct knowledge of the cuts, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details of the restructuring are private. To stave off additional staff reductions, Leno took a sizable pay cut, said the person, who would not specify the amount. Some producers also agreed to salary reductions to keep their jobs, according to Deadline Hollywood, which earlier reported news of the cutbacks.
''Jay's foremost concern is for the wonderful people who work for 'The Tonight Show,'" said Bruce Bobbins, a spokesman for Leno. "He did what was necessary to ensure their well-being."
The cuts came as a surprise to some because "The Tonight Show" is the highest-rated of all the late-night talk shows on American television. On an average night this season, it has attracted 3.67 million viewers, about 20 percent more than "The Late Show with David Letterman" on CBS.
But the show's budget was inflated by late-night standards. It increased when Leno was moved to prime time in 2009, and remained high even after the experiment failed a few months later.
Leno's "Tonight Show" salary has been estimated at $25 million in the past. He also makes many millions of dollars a year from other appearances.
In 2009, the company that makes "The Late Show" for CBS agreed to a budget cut, but no layoffs were reported at that time. This year, Letterman's contract was extended through 2014.
After factoring in the cutbacks Friday, the "Tonight Show" budget will be roughly back to pre-2009 levels, The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday. Despite the restructuring, viewers are not expected to see any changes to the show, according to the person with knowledge of the cuts. The network, part of NBCUniversal, is owned by Comcast, which took control of the business from General Electric about 18 months ago.
Copyright 2012, NY Times Syndication