When Jay Leno leaves “The Tonight Show” in February 2014, he might not be leaving the network for good. NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt says he hopes the comedian, who has been with NBC for more than two decades, will stick around after his second ouster from the show he’s hosted (minus a one-year hiatus) since 1992.
“We’d love to have him stay on at NBC in various capacities … to have him, a la Bob Hope, still be a presence on the network,” Greenblatt told critics Saturday at the Television Critics Association Press Tour in Los Angeles. “We’re really hoping to do that post-February [when Leno exits 'The Tonight Show'...again and turns hosting duties over to Jimmy Fallon].”
But after the failure of NBC’s first succession plan, which saw Conan O’Brien take over the storied late-night institution for one year before Leno got his old job back after ratings flagged, it’s still awkward to hear Greenblatt explain why network brass feel it’s Leno’s time to go. After all, Jay continues to lead in the late-night ratings.
“We knew we had a platform in the 2014 Olympics this season that we weren’t going to have again for another four years. We wanted to make the transition when the time period was really strong to give Jimmy Fallon the best chance of succeeding,” Greenblatt says. “That was the reason for deciding to go this coming year with the Olympics as a booster rocket.”
Greenblatt’s reasoning for deciding it was time for “Late Night” host Jimmy Fallon to inherit the gig (to pull in a younger, hipper audience) doesn’t seem all that different from four years ago when O’Brien briefly had the job. Nonetheless, Greenblatt asserts that “We really believe in Jimmy Fallon.” “He’s seasoned; he’s a Grammy winner; he’s an Emmy winner,” he added. “He’s ready to go. It just seemed like this was the right time to do it.”
To Leno’s credit, Greenblatt says he’s been extremely gracious throughout the entire process. “Jay has done an incredible job for more than two decades. He’s actually one of the nicest people that you will ever meet, and he’s been just a great team player in all these transitional discussion. So I take my hat off to him.”
Stepping into Fallon’s “Late Night” shoes will be his fellow “SNL: Weekend Update” anchor Seth Meyers, whose transition to weekday late-night programming early next year means that “Saturday Night Live” will have yet another vacant cast spot to fill for Season 39 of the NBC institution.
Greenblatt isn’t worried about the gaping hole left by the impending departure of Meyers, and this season’s exits of Jason Sudeikis, Bill Hader and Fred Armisen (this, after also losing Kristen Wiig last year) because he trusts that “SNL” helmer Lorne Michaels knows what he’s doing.
“Lorne’s been doing this for 38 years,” Greenblatt says. “They go through these ‘SNL’ transitions every year, and he’s really good at re-seasoning each season. Would we have loved to have these people around longer? Sure. … But nobody’s better at combing the country for great comedy talent, and we’re confident that it will happen again. It is what it is.”
In fact, Michaels is already on the hunt for replacements, Greenblatt says. “He’s hunkered down, doing the job, and looking for the next generation of ‘SNL’ stars.”