By Cole Hill ( | First Posted: Mar 18, 2013 11:12 AM EDT

The sources close to NBC think the network may partly be interested in urging Leno to step down in order to snag a larger portion of the extremely coveted 18-49 demographic. (Photo : Reuters)

There may be something to reports of NBC's growing unhappiness with Jay Leno after all. A top executive at the network was apparently enraged with the "Tonight Show" host recently after Leno ripped NBC's poor ratings during sweeps month. 

The New York Times spoke to "three executives close to the situation" who claim that NBC entertainment chief Robert Greenblatt was none too happy with Leno after he mocked the network's slide into the fifth overall network behind Univision in February. 

In a Feb. 28 episode of "The Tonight Show," Leno poked fun at NBC's fall from grace: "We are behind the Spanish-language network Univision -- or, as we call it here in Los Angeles, Cinco de Ratings," he said, according to the Hollywood Reporter. "It's so bad, The Biggest Loser isn't just a TV show anymore; it's our new motto," he continued. "It's so bad, NBC called Manti Te'o and asked him to bring in some imaginary viewers."

Greenblat was apparently so incensed over the lighthearted ratings jabs that he started feuding with Leno in a series of "pointed" e-mails. According to the Times, "One of the executives who saw the exchange said that Mr. Leno was taken by surprise by Mr. Greenblatt's comments and strongly defended himself, citing the fact that late-night stars poking fun 'at their masters,' as the executive said, is in the long tradition of late-night comedy."

If the report is true, we hate to say this, but Leno's got a point. Tearing into a late night host for mocking their own network is kind of like getting mad at Leno for writing puns so groan-inducing they make Bruce Vilanch cringe; we all know its coming, it's a well worn cliche. 

Leno's representative has of course refused to comment on the alleged exchange. 

The bitter emails were apparently sent prior to news of NBC pressuring Leno into retirement, a report which NBC is still denying.

According to an exclusive from The Hollywood reporter earlier in the month, NBC is planning to announce in May that the 2013-14 television season will be Leno's last year to host "The Tonight Show," with Jimmy Fallon eyed as  his replacement.

The idea would be to snag Fallon to fill Leno's 11:35 p.m. time slot with a "soft launch" beginning in the summer of 2014, and then formally starting Fallon's run with "The Tonight Show" that fall. Leno's representatives have refused to comment, saying, "We do not speculate on rumor," according to THR.

The sources close to NBC think the network may partly be interested in urging Leno to step down in order to snag a larger portion of the extremely coveted 18-49 demographic, which Jimmy Kimmel has been eating up ever since ABC moved his show to the time slot in January.

"The Tonight Show" is apparently still consistently beating out its rivals with Leno as host, but NBC may be increasingly worried about competing with Kimmel for the younger demographic, sources believe.

"Kimmel has done extremely well," said an NBC "veteran," according to THR, who noted he hasn't heard of any plans to oust Leno. "Jay wins overall, but on any given night, it's neck-and-neck in 18-49. I understand where they might have fear and also feel that they own the solution [in Fallon.]"

NBC may also be trying to hedge its bets to secure the future of its late night programming. CBS' David Letterman may also soon be looking to retire from his long-running late night gig in 2014, and if he does, sources believe NBC may feel pressured into forcing Leno to exit in order to beat CBS to the punch in locking down Fallon.

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