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Done Deal: Conan Out, Leno In

And that’s that. Conan O’Brien will leave NBC after a 17-year career and a scant seven-month gig in his dream job, hosting The Tonight Show. Networks are already courting the popular host, even before Leno regains the desk in March.

Under terms of a settlement reached in the early morning on Thursday, NBC will pay Conan $33 million, which is the balance of his three-year contract with an additional $12 million that is going to laid-off producers and staff.

Compensation for O’Brien’s staff and crew was the final hurdle in negotiations between NBC and O’Brien. O’Brien was said to have been “dug in” on the issue out of concern for the workers, while NBC said this week that it had already agreed to pay “millions of dollars to compensate every one of them” and deemed it a public relations ploy.

Earlier this week O’Brien joked, “At first they thought I was gullible. They said the staff would be taken to a big farm, where they’d be allowed to run free forever.”

“We thought it was possible he’d understand the difficult situation we were in” by agreeing to move his show a half-hour later, to 12:05 ET/PT, says NBC Universal TV chief Jeff Gaspin. But O’Brien refused, expressing “enormous personal disappointment” and vowing he wouldn’t “participate in what I honestly believe is (Tonight‘s) destruction.”

Until Sept. 1, Conan can’t work elsewhere and for a shorter period of time, he can’t talk trash about his former employer, appear on other talk shows or do interviews. His signature comedy bits will stay put with NBC.

O’Brien joked on Thursday that among the terms of his exit, “I am prohibited from coming within 500 yards of 11:30” and he must “watch at least one NBC show every weeknight in order to double ratings.”


Representatives for Conan say they’ve already heard from several networks expressing interest in him. Fox is most interested in a nightly talk show, though it must first wrangle affiliates to give up their un-sexy yet profitable late-night reruns.

John Rash of ad firm Campbell Mithun, said “He actually has a TV tonality more appropriate for Fox than he did for NBC.”

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