Leno a Very Rich Late-Night Fixture
03/30/2004 AT 02:58 PM EST
The host of NBC's "Tonight Show" has reportedly signed a lucrative, $100 million deal with the network that will keep him on the air through the end of the decade, according to The New York Times.
That will make Leno, who took over for Johnny Carson in 1992, the second longest host of the late-night show. Carson helmed "The Tonight Show" for 30 years.
In an interview with The Times, Leno declined to discuss how much money his contract was worth, but the Hollywood Reporter estimated the deal to be between $25 million and $27 million a year. That is a significant increase from the $16 million per year he was believed to have been earning. Not that Leno needs the money.
"If you can't live on what I make there's something wrong with you," he told The Times. Leno has said that the money he earns from the show goes directly into the bank and that he lives off the income he makes from his stand-up comedy and corporate appearances.
There is little mystery as to why NBC was eager to re-sign Leno. "The Tonight Show" continues to be a good deal for the network, earning more money than any other program with the exception of the "Today" show. And Leno continues to beat his late-night CBS rival David Letterman on a consistent basis.
Still, Leno claims to hold his competition in high esteem. "I watch (Letterman's) show and it's real good. He does a joke or a bit and sometimes I say, 'I wish we had that,'" he told The Times.
But Leno has been successful in obtaining some things from other on-air entertainment shows. This week John Melendez, formerly "Stuttering John" of Howard Stern's radio show, joins Leno's "Tonight Show" in the announcer's seat. Leno told USA Today that Melendez impressed him after he was a guest on the show last year. "He had the ability to make fun of celebrities without being mean or nasty," Leno said.
Meanwhile, in addition to the lucrative new contract, Leno is looking forward to a year during which much of his material will be fueled by an election. "This is going to be one of the nastiest presidential elections ever," he told The Times, adding that that was good news for him.