8:24pm PT by Kim Masters
NBC's Bob Greenblatt Takes Jay Leno to Dinner to Talk 'Tonight Show'
NBC Entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt is taking Jay Leno out to dinner Thursday night amid a flurry of speculation about Leno's future with The Tonight Show.
An NBC rep confirmed the dinner plan to The Hollywood Reporter but characterized the meeting as not atypical. Still, the in-person sit-down comes in the wake of THR reporting that NBC plans to hand Tonight to Jimmy Fallon in 2014 and is building a new stage for the current Late Night host in New York. In addition, The New York Times reported that Greenblatt expressed his displeasure with Leno's recent monologue jokes about NBC's ratings in an email to the host, after which Leno jokingly referred to NBC execs as "snakes" on Monday's show.
Sources say some top NBCUniversal executives are leaning toward a February launch of Fallon's Tonight to take advantage of the promotional platform of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Others, including Late Night executive producer Lorne Michaels, are said to have concerns about rushing the transition.
Leno's contract expires in September 2014, and he is said to have a clause in his deal requiring NBC to pay a significant penalty to him if he is taken off the air before the end of his contractual tenure.
Meanwhile, NBCUniversal is said to be in the middle of negotiations with Fallon to put into writing a contract for the Tonight Show transition. NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke is said to be involved in the negotiations himself, with CAA's Richard Lovett taking the lead for Fallon.
Greenblatt's dinner with Leno comes on the heels of an interview ABC late-night host Jimmy Kimmel gave to CNN's Jake Tapper in which Kimmel criticized Leno. When Tapper asked Kimmel if he thought his recent move to the 11:35 p.m. slot would be the cause for Leno's exit, the ABC host couldn't hide his excitement.
"God, I hope so," he said with a laugh. "I really -- I don’t know. I mean, I have no idea. I mean, well, obviously, NBC is looking to move on, because they did it once already. This would be the second time that this has happened. So, I mean, it makes perfect sense."
NBC famously handed Tonight to Conan O'Brien in 2009 and moved Leno to a new show at 10 p.m. When Tonight's ratings dropped, Leno was reinstalled at 11:35 p.m. and O'Brien departed for a TBS show.
Leno, 62, has consistently remained the top-rated late-night host, though Kimmel, 45, recently has made inroads with younger viewers. Fallon, 38, is the youngest of the broadcast network late-night hosts.
As THR reported Wednesday, Fallon himself has reached out to Leno in an attempt to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Since the New York Times reported that Greenblatt fired off an angry email to Leno after a Feb. 28 episode in which the host skewered the network's falling to fifth place during sweeps month, Leno has made jokes about NBC executives and its ratings every night this week.
"Are you all into March Madness?" Leno asked on Thursday's Tonight show, taped before his dinner with Greenblatt. "People are talking about who's in, who's out, who's gonna be eliminated. And that's just here at NBC. I have never been in the paper this much. It's fantastic."