VIA: New York Times
The end of the Conan O’Brien chapter of “The Tonight Show” was officially hammered out on Thursday with a lot of money — and some parting recriminations — being dished out.
Mr. O’Brien’s settlement with NBC will pay him $32.5 million, essentially a buyout of the remaining two and a half years of his guaranteed contract. His salary, which has never been confirmed, has been estimated at $12 million to $15 million a year. His last show will be Friday night, and NBC will reinstate Jay Leno as host of the “The Tonight Show” on March 1.
NBC will also 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 discussions concerned the severance that NBC will pay to staff members who do not have contracts.
In one coincidence noticed throughout the television business, the total amount that NBC is paying — about $45 million — is precisely the amount that NBC had promised 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 would have received the entire amount himself, however, not sharing with his staff.
Jeff Gaspin, the chairman of NBC Entertainment, called the deal “a settlement that worked for both sides.”
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 a.m., to make room for Mr. Leno — Mr. Gaspin repeated his argument that the network had never wanted to lose Mr. O’Brien.
Mr. Gaspin agreed with the argument made by many fans of Mr. O’Brien, that if the host had been allowed to stay on the show, he 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 the network to change its 10 p.m. lineup, where Mr. Leno had been moved.
“Our hand was forced,” Mr. Gaspin said.
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