HE’S BEEN HAMMERING THE NETWORK SINCE MARCH 11
By ADAM BUCKMAN
NEW YORK, March 20, 2013 — While other Web sites are just beginning now to cover the story of Jay Leno’s war on NBC, I’ve been following it ever since it first began on March 11.
That was the day — a Monday — that Leno and “The Tonight Show” returned from a week off. As a result, it was Leno’s first opportunity to comment on a story that broke 10 days earlier, at the very beginning of the show’s one-week hiatus — that NBC was close to having a plan in place to replace Leno with Jimmy Fallon in summer 2014.
The story from The Hollywood Reporter broke on the evening of Friday, March 1, after that evening’s “Tonight Show” had been taped and the show’s writers and producers had decamped for their one-week break.
Leno made no public comments about the story during the week the show was dark — March 4-8 — but on that very first night back on March 11, he expressed his displeasure with the story as only he can — in his “Tonight Show” monologue. It’s a familiar pattern with Leno: He doesn’t comment directly on the situation in his jokes and comments, but the message isn’t lost on his audience, who knows exactly what he’s talking about — and Jay knows it.
Since no one else has covered this story as completely as I have, here’s a complete timeline of Leno’s jokes and comments about NBC since March 11, through Friday, March 22.
Monday, March 11
Two monologue jokes dealt directly with the replacement story (but without mentioning the story specifically), starting with: “You all look surprised to see me! I’m shocked!” (He was reacting to the standing ovation he received from the studio audience when he came on stage.)
Then, later in the monologue, he said: “According to a survey, 12 percent of workers admit to having sex at work. Now, I myself have never had sex at work. I’ve been screwed by my employer, but I have never, never, never had sex!”
A third monologue joke poked fun at NBC’s ongoing struggle in the prime-time ratings race, which has it ranked fifth among all major networks — ranking behind even Spanish-language Univision. “Right before he died, [late Venezuelan President] Hugo Chavez did have some last words,” Jay said. “He said he was just happy he lived long enough to see Univision beat NBC!”
Tuesday, March 12
This monologue had two jokes that were even more pointed than the ones Leno delivered the evening before: “You know, we were on vacation last week,” he said, opening Tuesday’s monologue (after taking the stage for a second consecutive standing ovation). “And when I came back yesterday, NBC had really beefed up security. Yet, despite that, I was still able to get on the lot!”
The second joke that evening, this one having to do with the resignation of Pope Benedict: “And of course rumors are flying at the Vatican,” Leno said. “The latest one, according to the Italian press, is that Pope Benedict did not retire. They say he was forced out by NBC!”
Friday, March 15
For some reason, Leno let the subject rest on March 13 and 14. But on Friday, March 15, he was back at it, for reasons related first to the day’s date, and also to one of the evening’s guests, fellow late-night host Craig Ferguson of CBS. Here’s the monologue joke Leno delivered that evening: “You know what today is?” Today [March 15] is the Ides of March. This is when Julius Caesar was stabbed in the back by the people he trusted. Not a good day to be working at NBC!”
Then, later, Leno and Ferguson (who hosts “Late Late Show” on CBS) had this exchange, in which Leno expressed his frustration with NBC executives:
“I don’t know what your relationship is like with NBC,” Ferguson said, after Leno asked Craig how it’s going at CBS.
“I have a very good relationship with CBS and I know you have a very good relationship with NBC,” said Ferguson, who obviously knew that wasn’t true. “But I do like the feeling of being able to go and do standup [comedy] just in case anything goes wrong and I have to earn a living outside of the world of [late-night TV] …”
“That’s true because when you do this show you don’t really know how you’re doing,” Leno said. “You get notes like this [Jay picks up a blue note card and reads], um, ‘You’re not doing well with immature boys between 11 and 14, so if you could do something … ’ So you don’t really know!”
By contrast, Leno said of his outside standup work, “When you go out on the road, they laugh, you get your check, you move on. You don’t get the network notes.”
“Yeah, you’re autonomous,” Ferguson said.
Then, on the evening of March 15, at around the same time that “The Tonight Show” was being taped on the West Coast, the New York Times posted a story on its Web site that said Leno had clashed recently with the head of NBC programming, Robert Greenblatt, who was reportedly unhappy with the many jokes Leno had been doing the last few weeks about NBC’s ratings woes.
Monday, March 18
So, on Monday, March 18, the day after St. Patrick’s Day, came a monologue joke that played like a reaction to the Greenblatt story: “You know the whole legend of St. Patrick, right? St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland — and then they came to the United States and became NBC executives. It’s a fascinating story!”
Tuesday, March 19
Then, on Tuesday, March 19, came this joke referring to NBC’s ratings struggle: “Did you hear about this? A 28-year-old woman from Serbia has a rare brain condition where she sees everything upside down. The good news? She’s now been given a job at the White House as President Obama’s economic adviser!”
And here’s the part about NBC: “Isn’t that crazy? It’s unbelievable. She sees everything upside down. In fact, she thinks NBC is at the top of the ratings!”
Then, in a comedy bit titled “Midseason Replacements” — in which Leno presented brief “trailers” for fictional midseason shows — Leno made another reference to NBC’s low ratings. It was just after he showed a “clip” from a show called “Mourning Wood,” about a man named Wood whose wife had just died: “I think NBC’s got a hit on its hands with that one. I think that’s gonna be our turnaround show!”
Wednesday, March 20
In this monologue joke, Leno likened NBC to the dinosaurs of the Jurassic era: “This is kind of scary. Scientists say they’re getting closer and closer to being able to do ‘Jurassic Park’-style cloning of extinct species. Imagine that? Things that were once thought to be extinct could now be brought back from the dead, so there’s hope for NBC! It could turn around!”
Thursday, March 21
Leno opened his monologue with this joke: “You all excited about March Madness? You into March Madness? People talk about who’s in, who’s out, who’s gonna be eliminated … and that’s just here at NBC! Wow, I have never been in the paper this much! It’s fantastic!”
Friday, March 22
Jay dropped two NBC jokes into the middle of his monologue. In fact, when he began reciting the set-up for this first one, I sensed an NBC joke on the way as soon as he began talking about a knife blade stuck in a man’s back: “Doctors in Canada were shocked after pulling a three-inch knife blade from the back of a 32 year-old man,” Leno said. “The knife had been in there for three years. Imagine that, the guy had a knife in his back for three years. He must have worked at NBC too! I couldn’t believe that! I was stunned by that!”
In his second joke, Jay acknowledged that he had dinner with NBC executives Thursday night (including Robert Greenblatt, according to reports — the network programming boss who complained about Jay’s NBC jokes) in an effort to smooth out their differences: “Now, have you heard about this alleged feud that I’m having with NBC? I think it’s going to be OK. This is real: I had dinner last night with a bunch of NBC executives. To make it up to me, what they did, they are sending my wife and I on an all-expenses paid Carnival Cruise! How about that? So it looks like it’s going to be OK! Fantastic!”
Wednesday, March 27
After taking a break from the NBC jokes for two days — Monday, March 25, and Tuesday, March 26 — Leno returned to the subject Wednesday night with two monologue jokes plus an additional joke included in the evening’s comedy segment.
The first monologue joke: “Folks, oh, my God, listen to this,” Leno said. “Monday night the [NBC] prime-time shows ‘The Voice’ and ‘Revolution’ moved NBC into the No. 2 position. You know what that means? No. 2 — between Easter and Passover, this is truly the season of miracles! We’re No. 2! We’re No. 2! Amazing! … And I’ve been saying that for the last week, that NBC is a big No. 2! Haven’t I been saying that? Congratulations!”
The second monologue joke, delivered a few minutes later: “Speaking of T-Mobile,” he said (following a joke about a prison inmate who tried to smuggle a cellphone into a California prison for Charlie Manson), “they announced yesterday they are doing away with contracts. So apparently they got the idea from NBC! I’m not sure how that works!”
Here’s the bit he did in the evening’s comedy segment in which he joked that David Letterman is even older than him. The bit was called “What’s Trending Tomorrow,” and it was a parody of what’s trending “today” on social media, with Jay pushing the subject forward to “tomorrow”: “Trending right now,” Leno said. “Jay Leno beset by rumors he’s being replaced by a younger host [a picture of Jimmy Fallon was then shown on a screen behind Jay]. Trending tomorrow … David Letterman also being replaced by a younger host … [then a photo of Leno himself was shown]! Yeah! Yeah! There you go!” Leno said. “I like that one! that was a fun one.”
Thursday, March 28
Only one joke on this show — a monologue joke that referred to the way Jay perceives he’s being covered in the media: “Paleontologists in Germany say a 30-foot dinosaur called the ankylosaurus probably had a six-foot long penis. A six-foot long penis. Now I understand what the critics are talking about when they call me a dinosaur! This is what they … It was actually a compliment!”
Monday, April 1
Two monologue jokes, starting with: “Before we get started,” Leno said, “let me say that NBC and I have reached a peaceful, amicable agreement that will be beneficial to both sides … April Fools! It will never happen!”
Then, later: “Well, during his meeting with [new Pontiff] Pope Francis last week, Pope Benedict, the outgoing Pope, said that he would spend his retirement hidden from the world … unless of course he gets a better offer from the Fox Network! Then he might move!”
And the show ended with that much talked-about duet between Leno and Jimmy Fallon — sung to the tune of “Tonight” from “West Side Story.” You can watch the duet HERE.
Read my previous stories on Jay Leno’s war with NBC, only on Xfinity.Comcast.net:
Contact Adam Buckman: email@example.com