NBC deal allows Conan O’Brien to seek other network

NEW YORK - NBC has reached a $45 million agreement with Conan O’Brien to end his brief tenure as host of the “Tonight Show” so that Jay Leno can return as the face of the late-night comedy show, NBC and people familiar with the matter said on Thursday.

By (Reuters)

Published: Thu 21 Jan 2010, 9:49 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 3:20 AM

Of the total amount, $32.5 million will go to O’Brien and about $12 million to his staff, two people with knowledge of the deal said.

“We can confirm a deal has been signed and an announcement will be made later today,” an NBC spokeswoman said.

O’Brien will be allowed to return to television on Sept 1., according to one source, adding that the deal came after a long night of negotiations.

MSNBC said O’Brien will end his “Tonight Show” run on Friday and leave the network just seven months after he took over from Leno, who had hosted the show for 17 years.

The Leno-O’Brien drama played out before late-night television viewers in recent weeks after NBC admitted its experiment of moving Leno from his familiar 11:35 p.m. spot to a prime-time 10 p.m. slot had failed.

The turmoil has turned NBC, long the king of late-night comedy, into the butt of jokes, including plenty by Leno and O’Brien as well as their rivals on other networks.

After Leno moved his new comedy talk show into the unfamiliar 10 p.m. slot, when American television viewers were more accustomed to crime dramas, O’Brien took over the “Tonight Show,” but his rating faltered.

When Leno’s show also fared poorly in the ratings, NBC decided to move Leno back to 11:35 for a shortened half-hour show, pushing O’Brien and the “Tonight Show” to midnight.

But O’Brien refused, issuing a bitter statement saying it would wreck the “Tonight Show” franchise that had been built so successfully by Johnny Carson, the longtime host before Leno took over.

Since then, O’Brien has placed a sales advertisement on popular website Craigslist for a “barely used late-night talk show,” and joked on his show that young people should be inspired to believe they can “do anything you want in life — unless Jay Leno wants to do it, too.”

NBC Universal is owned by General Electric Co., but GE and cable company Comcast Corp reached a deal in December to set up a joint venture that is 51 percent owned by Comcast and 49 percent by GE. The deal is being reviewed by the federal government for antitrust considerations.

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