Conan O’Brien said good bye and good riddance to NBC Thursday in a $45 million deal for his exit from The Tonight Show, allowing Jay Leno to return to the late-night program he hosted for 17 years.
Under the deal, which came seven months after O’Brien took the reins from Leno, O’Brien will get more than $33 million, NBC said. The rest will go to his 200-strong staff in severance. My, how generous of them.
Compensation for O’Brien’s staff and crew was the final battle at the end of the controversial negotiation. O’Brien was said to have been “dug in” on the issue out of concern for his team, 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.”
On last night’s show, O’Brien continued to barade the negotiation deal, joking, “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.”
“In the end, Conan was appreciative of the steps NBC made to take care of his staff and crew, and decided to supplement the severance they were getting out of his own pocket,” his manager, Gavin Polone, told The Wall Street Journal. “Now he just wants to get back on the air as quickly as possible.”
Even more surprising than his exit, O’Brien’s last night as host will be Friday. His final guests will be Tom Hanks as well as Will Ferrell – his first guest as Tonight host last June.
Leno will return to Tonight on March 1.
O’Brien will be free to begin another TV job as soon as September. There has been much speculation on where he might go next. ABC has said it wasn’t interested, while FOX, which lacks a network late-night show, expressed appreciation for his show – but nothing more. Comedy Central has also been mentioned.
The controversial debate has finally come to a resolution, but not one that many fans will be happy about. Social network sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, have created “I’m with COCO” groups, to show their support for Conan O’Brien, and use the forums to show their distaste for late-night switch-up.
Any love for Leno? Not likely. TV-goers, celebrities, public figures, and Facebook groupies have showed little to no support for the late-night legend to return to Tonight. If O’Brien doesn’t get any offers from another network, and Leno’s ratings continue to tank, will NBC renegotiate O’Brien to return? Or will O’Brien’s divorce from NBC be permanent?
Until then, enjoy your nice, long vacation, Conan. Just avoid Johnny Carson re-runs and that bottle of Jack.