Today was the last day for most of the
120 staffers on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” who left with an early Christmas bonus check and no guarantee of a job when the strike ended. [An NBC source puts the number at "just under 100."]
“Do we have a job when the strike ends? That’s what everyone keeps asking,” said one former staffer. “They’ve guaranteed no one a job. They just keep saying, ‘The letter explains it.”
That letter is a notice from NBC’s human resources department that says, “If your services are needed, we will contact you.”
Sources said that while some higher-level executives received severance packages, other staffers received only Leno’s traditional bonus of $100 times the number of years the staffer has been on the show.
Writers were not included in the bonuses, but one writer emphasized that “he's not being Scrooge. He just wanted to get the staff taken care of first. I can't emphasize enough how generous Jay is.”
Others were less forgiving.
“We haven’t heard from him since the second or third day of the strike,” said a former Leno staffer. “He called on speakerphone while we were in our daily meeting and said, ‘Don’t look for other jobs, no one’s going to lose their house, we’ll get though this.’ Two weeks ago, we got the heads up that we had two more weeks (of pay) and that’s it. Everyone wondered, ‘Is Jay going to come through?’ And nothing happened. Conan makes less and he said, ‘I’m going to pay for my people.’ ”
Still on the payroll are the exec producers and a skeleton crew to answer phones. Leno was not on hand for the layoffs. Instead, Leno’s assistant notified the staff yesterday that they would get their Christmas bonus early. Leno's bonuses usually go out the week before Christmas.
"People are devastated today because we thought that he meant something more than an early Christmas bonus," another said. "A lot of people didn't look for other work, based on Jay's assurances."
UPDATE: Insiders confirm that the staff of "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" were formally laid off by NBC today as well; the show's employees received similar letters to the ones sent to "Tonight Show" staffers. Like "Tonight Show's" team, "Late Night" employees are officially laid off effective Friday. But as has been reported previously, O'Brien will continue to pay "Late Night" staffers himself. But because they're no longer officially employed by NBC, they won't be reporting to the "Late Night" offices come Monday.
Late Friday afternoon, a spokesperson delivered this statement:
NBC regretfully informed the people who work on the Tonight
Show with Jay Leno and Late Night with Conan O’Brien that their
services are not needed at this time due to our inability to continue
production of the shows.
— Dave McNary and Dana Harris