The king of late night’s reign is about to get longer. Insiders say NBC is nearing a deal with Jay Leno that would keep the comedian as host of ”The Tonight Show ” through December 2005. A network spokeswoman wouldn’t comment on the financial terms of the pact, but Leno reportedly earns nearly $14 million a year under his current contract, which is set to expire in December 2002.
The renegotiation comes as little surprise because ”The Tonight Show” has remained on top for the past five years. (Leno took over for Johnny Carson in May 1992.) So far this season, Leno is averaging 6.2 million viewers — with 3.1 million of them in the coveted 18 to 49 demographic. ”The Late Show with David Letterman” trails with 4.5 million viewers (2.2 million are 18 to 49). What’s more, Leno continues to hit milestones: During the final week of 2000, ”The Tonight Show” averaged 7.3 million viewers — its best performance in two years.
Once the ink’s dry on Leno’s new contract, sources say NBC will focus its attention on its other late night star, Conan O’ Brien. The deal for the latter host doesn’t expire for a few years, but the Peacock wants to take care of O’ Brien, who’s winning his time slot this season among adults 18 to 49 (1.5 million) and total viewers (2.5 million).