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Jay Leno’s war with NBC’s ‘snakes’ may signal ‘Tonight’ host shift

Jay Leno’s war with NBC’s ‘snakes’ may signal ‘Tonight’ host shift
Jay Leno (here in 2003 with the late Steve Irwin) has joked that NBC bosses are “snakes.”
(Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Jay Leno’s ascension to the host’s chair at “Tonight Show” was tumultuous. And now it’s looking like his exit might be rocky too.

Relations between the comic and his NBC bosses have soured in recent days, with Leno calling them “snakes” during Monday’s monologue.

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“You know the whole legend of St. Patrick, right? St. Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland, and then they came into the United States and became NBC executives,” Leno joked, as some in his studio audience gasped. “It’s a fascinating story, a fascinating story." 

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The ribbing came just days after the New York Times reported that NBC chief Bob Greenblatt traded tense emails with Leno over recent “Tonight” jokes ridiculing NBC’s poor ratings this winter. Last year, the network slashed the budget of “Tonight” by 20% in a cost-cutting move, also renewing the host’s contract through mid-2014.

But speculation has grown in recent days that NBC is considering replacing Leno with Jimmy Fallon. According to the Hollywood Reporter, a formal announcement is planned for May, although the network has denied that’s the case. in January, Greenblatt called “Tonight” succession rumors “premature.”

The situation has deteriorated since, however, as NBC has logged record lows with its prime time programming.

Leno’s rep said the host had no comment. Asked if the network wanted to comment on the situation, an NBC spokesman emailed, “No — but appreciate you checking in.”

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Leno’s inheritance of the “Tonight” chair 20 years ago was the subject of so much back-room dealing and show-biz intrigue it became the subject of an HBO movie, “The Late Shift.”

What do you think of this latest flap with Leno and his bosses?

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Twitter: @scottcollinsLAT

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