For at least the next week, Jay Leno will pay out of pocket the salaries of about 80 Tonight Show workers who were laid off Friday, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Previous to his decision, Leno had been criticized by many employees for failing to commit solid financial support to the non-writing staffers affected by the writers’ strike (last week David Letterman and Conan O’Brien preemptively pledged to pay affected staffers out of their own pockets through the end of the year).
At Friday’s Tonight Show staff meeting, workers were told they were not only out of a job but that there were no guarantees they would be rehired once the show resumes production. Shocked staffers told the Hollywood Reporter that Leno had promised them in an earlier conference call that their jobs were safe; recalled one staffer, ”He told us not to panic. He said: ‘I can’t get into details, but nobody will miss a car payment or lose their house. We’re family. Trust me. I’m going to take care of this.”’
Tonight Show insiders told the Hollywood Reporter that Leno had been feeling confident that the show would soon resume production, and that several possible plans — including going on with guest hosts, or with no monologue — had been discussed. But those plans did not materialize.
Leno has been a vocal supporter of the striking writers, showing up on the picket line early on to hand out doughnuts. But some members of his non-writing staff told the Hollywood Reporter and Variety they were skeptical of his support for them, especially considering some Tonight Show writers have $500,000 salaries and are receiving residuals during this period of reruns. On Friday staffers were told they’d get Leno’s annual Christmas bonus early, though in some cases that amounted to just $200. Leno’s rep has defended those bonuses, saying that they weren’t meant to be viewed as Leno’s final gesture, and that the total amounted to $500,000 out of Leno’s own pocket.