‘The Tonight Show' just got big NY tax breaks

Tonight Show Tax Breaks

ALBANY – Here’s your tax money…

The "Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" raked in nearly $21 million from New York taxpayers for its first season in New York, new records show.

The state lured the late show from California in 2013 as Fallon, who grew up in Saugerties, Ulster County, was getting set to take over for Jay Leno. The state expanded its film-tax credit program to include relocated TV shows -- which critics said was specifically aimed at getting "The Tonight Show" back to New York.

So now the bill has come due: The state reimbursed the first season of the show in 2014 for 30 percent of its production costs, which were nearly $70 million.

"The show participates in the program the same as any other production -- they submit an initial application and then a final, which is reviewed/audited and then credits issued based on total qualified costs," said Jason Conwall, spokesman for Empire State Development.

The tax break was among $161 million that Empire State Development, which runs the film-tax credit program, doled out to 55 films and movies between January and March for production and post-production work, according to its quarterly report posted online.

New York budgets $420 million a year to reimburse shows and movies for production costs -- the most of any state in the nation.

“The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" was the biggest tax break issued during the quarter. It reported having 1,900 hires and paying $11.4 million in wages.

There was no immediate comment from NBC on the state subsidy.

Others also got big bucks for shooting in New York, primarily in New York City, between January and March this year.

About $17 million went to season two of HBO's "The Knick"; $15 million went to season 6 of the CBS' "The Good Wife"; and $13.6 million to "Law and Order Special Victims Unit" season 16.

The money goes to production costs, not the on-air talent.

A series in June by the USA Today Network in New York highlighted the billions of dollars in subsidies that go annually to businesses in the state, including the film-tax breaks.

Studios received $42,300 for every direct job created in 2015 and 2016, a state report earlier this year found.

New York issued $730 million to 273 movies and shows since late 2014, averaging nearly $2.7 million a production, the USA Today Network review found.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state officials have praised the program as bolstering an industry of film-production companies and studios in New York, as well as creating new jobs.

The program was extended through 2020 in the state budget approved April 9.

"That industry is a positive return on investment for New York. And it gets more positive with each passing year," Howard Zemsky, president of Empire State Development, said in an interview with the USA Today Network's Albany Bureau in May.

But critics have blasted the spending on films and shows, saying taxpayers' money shouldn't go to fund Hollywood.

"It’s a giant hand out from taxpayers to some of the richest people in America: Hollywood moguls," said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a watchdog group that tracks the state's economic-development incentives.

The Buffalo Niagara Film Commissioner was not available for an interview Monday night to talk about the tax break program with 2 On Your Side.

 

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