The week before the Thanksgiving holiday, America’s Got Talent judges Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough were let go from the reality television competition series at NBC. At first, no particular reason was given for their departure, but last Tuesday, an exclusive report from Variety alleged Union had been fired from the series after she complained about an apparently racist joke made by visiting comedian Jay Leno during a taping. Since then, Union, Hough, and NBC have engaged in a media-driven game of phone tag regarding what really happened on the AGT set.
Though it wasn’t until Sunday that Leno himself, the former Tonight Show host whose joke about pets being “on the menu at a Korean restaurant” sparked onset complaints by Union (and communications with human resources at NBC), responded to the fiasco. Or, at least he briefly discussed the matter — while ignoring the specifics of his alleged joke and whether or not it led to Union’s dismissal from the series.
“I love Gabrielle Union. She’s a great girl. I really enjoyed working with her,” he told TMZ. When asked if Union was “treated fairly” by America’s Got Talent and NBC in light of her firing, however, he mimed speaking without any sounds before finally offering a brief comment. “I don’t know, but I think she’s a great girl.”
On Monday, NBC issued a statement to CNN regarding Variety‘s initial report and the nature of Union’s dismissal from America’s Got Talent. “We remain committed to ensuring a respectful workplace for all employees and take very seriously any questions about workplace culture,” it read. “We are working with Ms. Union through her representatives to hear more about her concerns, following which we will take whatever next steps may be appropriate.”
This came after the network’s initial release, which championed the show’s “long history of inclusivity and diversity” and made no mention, specifically, of Variety‘s story.