The War on Jay Leno


The Hollywood Reporter has a great must read piece of how NBC is kicking Jay Leno out the door even though he is on top of the ratings and just where he might end up.

THR writes that the news that NBC was going to bounce Leno prompted a media frenzy not seen in late-night TV since, well, the last time NBC attempted to dethrone Leno. That 2009 effort to install Conan O'Brien at Tonight and move Leno to a nightly 10 p.m. show backfired colossally. Within months, Leno reacquired his 11:35 perch and O'Brien left for a lesser-watched TBS gig and a $45 million payout. But while Leno remained mostly silent during the Conan debacle -- even as his rivals and the media pushed a Leno-as-villain narrative -- this time he fueled the flames of speculation. Leno and other hosts always have  poked fun at their networks, but after the Greenblatt email conversation became public March 15, Leno launched a week's worth of pointed jabs at his employer, referring to NBC execs as "snakes" and suggesting the network would send its top star on an ill-fated Carnival cruise. For NBC, the timing was terrible because it coincided with an embarrassing fifth-place finish during the February sweep (below Univision) and highly critical media coverage of its Today franchise that revealed a mishandling of the ouster of Ann Curry -- the kind of press NBC seems unable to finesse.

And the article talks about how Leno could end up working for Jeff Zucker at CNN. The same Jeff Zucker that famously screwed everything up back in 2009's late night mess.

Talking about Leno THR writes (Leno) who works 24/7 on TV and in comedy clubs, isn't interested in sitting out. Says that source: "He doesn't need the money, and he doesn't spend the money. Being on the air is much more important to him."

Cable, too, could present options for Leno. Multiple sources suggest at least two cable networks have expressed interest in him. Other possibilities include a daytime show a la Ellen, a primetime variety show or even a CNN entry reuniting him with former NBCU chief Jeff Zucker, who famously set the last round of late-night wars in motion in 2004 when he promised O'Brien he would inherit The Tonight Show in 2009 if he re-upped on Late Night for five years. 

Nearer term, NBC is said to want nothing more than to avoid another Leno circus -- so much so that NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke has involved himself personally in the Fallon negotiations. The network, along with Leno, declined comment.

Leno is said to be willing to exit the network amicably, if NBC handles its end of the transition in the same manner. After all, he is in his 60s this time around, not his 50s, and he (and the business of late night) are in a much different place than during the 2009 fight for Tonight. Still, a decision has yet to be made about his next steps -- and according to sources, one is unlikely to come in the immediate future. Greenblatt, for one, is hoping for a smooth transition, telling The Wall Street Journal in September: "I'm sure there will be a day when these guys -- Letterman and Leno -- wake up and say, 'It's time for us to exit gracefully.' "

Read the full and very interesting story at The Hollywood Reporter