The recent reports about NBC's post-Leno plans were as surprising as they were interesting. As in, they kind of came out of nowhere. So it might make sense to hear that, behind the scenes, Leno has been feuding with one of the top executives at NBC.
The New York Times' Bill Carter reports Leno and NBC exec Robert Greenblatt recently participated in a "exchange of pointed e-mails," over jokes Leno made about his networks' ratings performance. Greenblatt is the executive in charge of ratings performance, and, in short, NBC is doing terribly. The always-edgy Leno felt the need to point that out, as late night hosts are wont to do. But on the February 28 episode of The Tonight Show, he went too far. These jokes were what Greenblatt's ire:
For the geographically impaired, Leno called NBC "Cinco de Ratings," joked that The Biggest Loser is now the channel's "new motto," and then he capped it all off with a Manti Te'o joke.
Yep, those are some really edgy jokes from Mr. Leno. It's the kind of envelope-pushing stuff we've come to expect from him during his never-ending tenure as Tonight Show host. Mr. Greenblatt was unimpressed, though, and he emailed Leno to let his feelings be known. Then, the "pointed exchange" happened. Leno defended his right to make jokes at NBC's expense, citing the long history of late night hosts making fun of their overseers. We're never told how Greenblatt responded.
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The interesting thing about Carter's report is that this was all happening at the same time as reports of NBC's post-Leno plans started to leak. On March 1, the day the alleged email echange would have likely occurred, The Hollywood Reporter's Kim Masters reported NBC were considering replacing or fast tracking Leno's departure from behind the Tonight Show desk to replace him with Jimmy Fallon. The logic behind the move was that Leno, despite still being the top-rated late night host in all demographics, was ceding some ground in the 18-49 demo to ABC's Jimmy Kimmel. The move to call Fallon up early may make sense from an economic standpoint, but to cite ratings performance seemed silly. Leno was and always has been winning every category.
What we're supposed to gather is that maybe, just maybe, behind the scenes things aren't as rosy as we're led to believe with Leno and NBC right now. His contract doesn't run out until late 2014, but the reported plan to move Fallon to the Tonight Show would have soft-launched next summer. The email exchange, accompanied with the leaked reports of an early ouster, point to a growing displeasure between the network and Leno. If these leaks are coming out, but they can't be sourced to the only parts of a feud between Leno and his overseers we're just learning about? The alternative is that Leno's defenders at NBC weren't pleased with the succession reports and snitched on Greenblatt for what was likely a harmless, maybe even regular, email exchange. Hmm, we're meant to say. Hmm, indeed.