NBC and Conan O'Brien have reached a resolution of the issues surrounding O'Brien's contract to host "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien.Conan is paying his staff out of his own pocket.
Under terms of an agreement that was signed earlier today, NBC and O'Brien will settle their contractual obligations and the network will release O'Brien from his contract, freeing him to pursue other opportunities after September 1, 2010.
O'Brien will make his final appearance as host of "The Tonight Show" on January 22.
Along with that, NBC will pay about $12 million to settle the contracts of others associated with show, including Mr. O’Brien’s longtime executive producer, and closest colleague, Jeff Ross. Some of the last-minute contentiousness surrounded the severance that NBC will pay to staff members who do not have contracts.More of a downer:
NBC executives emphasized that the network had stepped up and paid an additional $600,000 beyond the standard severance and sought to make it clear that it was a network decision to add that money, not one made by Mr. O’Brien’s side in the negotiations.
Gavin Polone, Mr. O’Brien’s manager, agreed with that characterization. “They did step up and Conan is appreciative of that,” he said. But he stressed that Mr. O’Brien has committed to paying additional money to staff members who have lost jobs with the end of the show—many of whom sold homes in New York and moved to Los Angeles to follow Mr. O’Brien.
Mr. Polone said, “Conan is paying them more beyond that out of his own pocket — a large seven-figure amount.”
In one glaring coincidence being noticed throughout the television business, the total amount that NBC is paying – just about $45 million – is precisely the amount that NBC had promised to Mr. O’Brien as a penalty payment if he did not get the “Tonight” show when it was first promised to him in 2004. In that case he himself would have received that entire amount, however, not him and his entire staff.[...]
In defending the decision to alter NBC’s late-night lineup — a decision that originally asked Mr. O’Brien to slide back a half hour to 12:05 p.m. to make room for the former “Tonight” host, Jay Leno — Mr. Gaspin repeated his argument that the network never wanted to lose Mr. O’Brien.
He agreed with the argument made by many fans of Mr. O’Brien that if he had been allowed to stay in the show, the comic had a good chance to increase his ratings over time
“Could it have grown? Absolutely,” Mr. Gaspin said. “We just couldn’t give him the time.” He pointed to the pressure that was being exerted by NBC’s affiliated stations for NBC to change its 10 p.m. lineup, where Mr. Leno has been moved.
“Our hand was forced,” Mr. Gaspin said.
But he went some lengths to justify the network’s choice to preserve Mr. Leno, who previously had been the dominant leader in late-night ratings. “For the first time ever ‘The Tonight Show’ is going to lose money this season,” Mr. Gaspin said. He called it “substantial money” and while he declined to name a figure said it amounts to “tens of millions of dollars.”
Mr. Polone said he “did not know NBC’s financials” but cited advertising figures and demand that still seemed strong for the show.[...]
Mr. Polone said, “I don’t agree with their interpretation of the numbers,” and added, “The numbers this week speak for themselves.”
This week, as Mr. O’Brien has come out swinging against NBC, his ratings have soared.
“In the end Conan will benefit from this,” Mr. Polone said.
The settlement allows Mr. O’Brien to come back with a new show as early as Sept. 1. Mr. Polone said he and Mr. O’Brien’s agents would begin soliciting offers for the star immediately with a goal of landing a new network show as close to that date as possible. The Fox network has already expressed interest in exploring that option.
“The show is working,” Mr. Polone said, warming up his pitch. He noted that Mr. O’Brien has been “very up” over the past week despite the protracted negotiations over his future. “He is incredibly grateful for the 500,000 people on Facebook supporting him and the people staging protests. The energy in that room has been fantastic.”
As he has before, Mr. Polone again cited how Mr. Leno had first taken off as the “Tonight” host when an outside event—he had Hugh Grant as a guest just after the actor was involved in an arrest for soliciting a prostitute—brought hordes of viewers into the show. “It’s ironic, but this week was that event for Conan,” Mr. Polone said.
Whenever Conan O’Brien comes back to television, his show is likely to look significantly different. NBC is claiming that it owns all the comedy bits that were created during Mr. O’Brien’s run, first on the “Late Night” show and for the past seven months on “Tonight.”I don't know what day that is but NBC is taking a major hit with this.
That even includes one of the most recognizable comedy characters of recent years Triumph, The Insult-Comic Dog. The character was created by Mr. O’Brien’s one-time writer (and longtime friend) Robert Smigel, and NBC claims it owns the character in partnership with Mr. Smigel.
But NBC also can — and apparently will — claim ownership of other signature comedy bits created on Mr. O’Brien’s shows, including some of his classic routines like “The Year 3000” and Conando. (NBC also is claiming dibs on “The Masturbating Bear,” though Mr. O’Brien had largely retired him before he made a cameo on Wednesday night’s show.)
One member of Mr. O’Brien’s staff said the show is unworried and planning to come up with new routines — or maybe some clever variations on the old ones. One suggestion: different animals doing vulgar things.
NBC also had some concern that Mr. O’Brien might take his anger with the network to the next step and seek to undermine Mr. Leno’s return to “The Tonight Show” by making a guest appearance with David Letterman — or maybe Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert on the Comedy Central cable channel — on the first night Mr. Leno comes back to “Tonight” after the Olympics.
However, one participant in the discussion said that possibility was taken care of in the settlement: Mr. O’Brien will not be able to do any interviews for a period of time that extends beyond the date of Mr. Leno’s March 1 return.