Conan O’Brien may get $40 million to leave, NBC execs get death threats

Conan O'Brien outside the Ivy Restaurant in Hollywood

Many people feel pretty sure that Friday will be Conan O’Brien’s last night on the Tonight Show – or his last night on NBC, if you will – will be this Friday. Conan and NBC executives are said to be trying to out-hardball each other with how bitchy and hardcore they can be, and it’s looking more and more like Conan is going to walk away with a $40 million severance package and be made to sign some kind of confidentiality clause that will mean he can never badmouth NBC again. Of course, this current theory is coming from The Wall Street Journal (who does have good sources… corporate sources). NBC executive Jeff Zukcer whined to the Journal: “We were not surprised that Conan was disappointed in having his show back up a half hour. But we were very surprised and disappointed at how nasty it turned.” Meanwhile, Conan hasn’t signed anything so far, so he lashed out last night, calling NBC execs “incompetent morons”. Well played.

But before Conan’s tirade, we had to hear from Leno at 10 p.m. I think Jay is trying to act like the good guy, or the aw-shucks-it-wasn’t-my-fault guy, but… I don’t know, I just don’t buy Jay’s version of events or motives. Oh, and if you read between the lines, Jay is basically saying that none of this was his fault, he’s just some poor guy who chanced upon an $80 million contract or something:

There were no jokes this time – just the facts, as Jay Leno sees them.

In a detailed account of his side of the talk-show mess at NBC, Leno opened his lame-duck program Monday night seeking to set the record straight and try to repair relations with his – apparently temporary – Tonight Show successor.

“Through all of this, Conan O’Brien has been a gentleman,” Leno said during the taping. “He’s a good guy. I have no animosity towards him.”

For now, Leno said, it appeared that he would be returning as host of The Tonight Show at 11:35 p.m. after O’Brien apparently rejected moving to midnight.

“So that’s pretty much where we are. It looks like we might be back at 11:30,” he said. “I’m not sure. I don’t know.”

Leno attributed the fiasco that sparked a war-of-monologues – with David Letterman talking potshots from the sidelines at CBS – to the ill-conceived idea of replacing him on The Tonight Show consistently finished at No. 1.

He said the executives at NBC didn’t think he could sustain those ratings and wanted him replaced with O’Brien, who had gotten offers from other networks.

The problem was compounded, Leno said, when he wanted then to be released from his contract to go elsewhere. NBC countered with the 10 p.m. show, which he accepted against his better judgment.

“Didn’t seem like a good idea at the time,” Leno said, but added he was convinced because focus groups had liked the idea and because he wanted to keep his staff employed. He also claimed he was guaranteed two years on the air.

“Four months go by, we don’t make it,” he said. “Meanwhile, Conan’s show during the summer – we’re not on – was not doing well. The great hope was that we would help him. Well, we didn’t help him any, okay.”

That’s when O’Brien was offered the midnight version of The Tonight Show, Leno said.

“Next thing I see Conan has a story in the paper saying he doesn’t want to do that,” said Leno. “They come back to me and they say if he decides to walk and doesn’t want to do it, do you want the show back? I go, ‘Yeah, I’ll take the show back. If that’s what he wants to do. This way, we keep our people working, fine.’ So that’s pretty much where we are.”

[From People]

One of the most shocking things about all of this is the oft-forgotten realization that just because someone works in the media, doesn’t mean they know how to work the media. It’s been startling to see how dumb, slow, and nasty NBC executives have been in handling this Leno-O’Brien drama. Speaking of, Jeff Zucker continued to do the media rounds by appearing on Charlie Rose last night. While Zucker admitted that this current situation is a disaster, he also complained that he’s now receiving death threats! Good Lord, Conan’s “I’m With Coco” peeps are rabid! Take it down a notch, people.


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35 Responses to “Conan O’Brien may get $40 million to leave, NBC execs get death threats”

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  1. Sigh. says:

    Craig Ferguson made a good point about all of this — it’s like feeling sorry for the bank/insurance/auto executives we bailed out. Yes, Conan got the shaft, but a FORTY MILLION DOLLAR shaft.
    It’s hard to feel sorry for ANY of the middle-aged white millionaire Hollywood-types.

  2. Beth says:

    The thing that bothers me is Jay brought down the ratings of NBC primetime yet he’s getting a second chance. NBC cancelled great shows that barely got a first. Why hasn’t Zucker been fired yet? He’s been making bad decisions for years.

  3. Firestarter says:

    Okay, first, I am most concerned with the outfit he is wearing in that top photo. He looks like he is on a “swish’ bowling team or something.

    Next- Isn’t this whole thing getting out of hand? Seriously, threatening people’s lives over a night time talk show host? If these people were so into Conan in the first place, maybe they should have watched the damned show instead of handing out ridiculous death threats. Have people not learned, death threats do not= getting your way?!

    I agree, at this juncture, Conan isn’t going to suffer. He will be a rich man, and once September rolls around he can do a show on another network and prove he is the best man for late night talk if that is what he wants to do.

    The whole thing is now becoming absurd and a little annoying. People protesting, threatening, ranting, raving. JEEZ! You all should have watched the show and then none of this would have happened.

  4. Bubulle says:

    I’m not american but, you guys are not fed up to hear about this mess ?

  5. snowball says:

    Bubelle, why would we be? It beats more Angelina vs. Jen stories. And it goes on nightly between several late night talk shows.

    TMZ is reporting Conan will get about $35 million, but whatever he makes if he goes to another network will offset that. If TMZ is right, NBC is also claiming copyright on Triumph the Dog and Masturbating Bear, so Conan won’t be able to use those on whatever show he ends up with.

    There’s always some lunatic nutbag who goes too far and sends death threats.

  6. Cuntastic says:

    This is the most important issue of our generation. Anyway, screw Leno. I’m with Coco.

  7. lucy2 says:

    Leno’s statement = damage control and image repair. Will it work? Doubt it, but who knows. People have short memories sometimes, but if this is how he felt he should have said so right off the bat, rather than only after everyone’s annoyed with him.
    I’m Team Coco for sure, but death threats? Get real crazy people, it’s TV shows we’re talking about here. NBC are royal screw ups for sure, but that is just ridiculous.
    I feel bad that Conan got the shaft in terms of the show, all of the staff, etc, but everyone, including him, acknowledges that he’s going to be OK financially and not to feel sorry for him. I’ve heard he’s negotiating good severance packages for the staff too, so hopefully that all works out, and then they can all go to a new show sooner or later.

  8. YT says:

    Death threats are going too far, but were they from pro-Conan people or anti-inept-NBC-executives people?

    Zucker was behind this whole mess. Leno can “aw shucks” all he wants, but he is in the middle of this mess too. Everyone, even Conan, should have known Conan was not right for the ll:30 slot.

    An expensive lesson from which no one will learn anything.

  9. Schwety says:

    a few of my friends are out of work, barely put food on the table, but hey, who cares……I’m with Coco

  10. Michelle says:

    Its amazing – hes crying but hes getting 40 million. Wonder what the people in Haiti think?

  11. ashley says:

    Leno needs to retire, he’s just not funny…Team Coco all the way!

  12. irishserra says:

    Just a bunch of big egos battling it out…

  13. Popcorny says:

    Oh yeah, money’s sweet but it’s a lot more than money -it’s legacy too.
    My sympathy for Conan didn’t evaporate because they lined his pockets, it didn’t make it right or equitable.
    This show (the Tonight Show) represents the acme achievement of a dream for some.
    Some want to focus on ratings for justification for the take-over but that’s conveniently forgetting/dismissing/ignoring that Jay also had dismal ratings for a long time in the beginning of his Tonight Show tenure and that it was understood that Conan’s audience would take similar time to build.
    Bottom line is that this is a monumental act of scumbaggery and greed -on the parts of both NBC and Jay Leno.
    The protesters who were out there in the rain no doubt do actually watch the show.
    I feel this on two levels, one is that I like Conan O’Brien and his show and the other is watching someone get unjustly treated, robbed of a dream and kicked to the curb in an instant.
    Ever watch someone get pink-slipped & pride gypped mid shift? Got empathy?
    Jay’s playing the Crying Game right now, but it’s bullshit, he’s trying to pretend his sweaty cumbagging paws weren’t all over this from the get-go. Who the F is he kidding by saying he (Jay) doesn’t harbor bad feelings for Conan -trying to subtlely twist it that Conan is somehow the “bad guy” -that right there is rock-solid evidence of Jay being a con, a liar and a true POS.

  14. Raven says:

    I’ve read that the $40 million goes to Conan and his staff. The staff gave up their homes to relocate to LA from NY.

    This was handled very badly and the fact that it goes on every day can be blamed on Jeff Zucker. I only hope he gets canned when this is over.

  15. LolaBella says:

    @Popcorny: ITA with you 100%.

    Team Conando!

  16. BitterBetty says:

    But will I still get my nightly coco fix??? please don’t take a 4 year break Conan!!!!! ILUUUUU

  17. Roma says:

    Meh. I think the whole death threat thing is just a figure of speech. You know, angry fans saying “keep Coco on the air or I’m going to kill you.” I doubt he actually fears for his life.

  18. Iggles says:

    “Next thing I see Conan has a story in the paper saying he doesn’t want to do that,” said Leno. “They come back to me and they say if he decides to walk and doesn’t want to do it, do you want the show back? I go, ‘Yeah, I’ll take the show back. If that’s what he wants to do. This way, we keep our people working, fine.’ So that’s pretty much where we are.”

    What a lying sack of dog poo!

    Of course that not what he wanted! Conan made it clear that doing the Tonight Show was his dream job! NBC were the ones refusing to let go of Jay, therefore forcing his hand. Jay should have bowed out gracefully. He’s old and not funny!

    What is with all the greed? He’s an old man with hundreds of cars! You have to know when to say when. Johnny Carson was a class act and no one had to tell him to go.

    Leno is scum. Karma will bite him. Just wait.

    BTW, Popcorny – You rock!

  19. LilacLover says:

    I also totally agree with Popcorny. (I’m with Coco!) I read something, perhaps on CNN where Jay Leno said something along the lines that if the ratings aren’t there then NBC is going to pull your show, referring to his and Conan’s ratings. But it’s such BS! Jay didn’t have good ratings until he had Hugh Grant on his show talking about his hooker encounter.
    I’m convinced Conan would have had the ratings eventually, he just needed to get in his groove.
    The lack of respect NBC and Jay Leno have shown Conan is disgusting. I think the death threats aren’t needed, but get Jeff Zucker the f-out of there.
    (Thanks, feels good to vent – I’m a long time Conan lover – since he wrote for the Simpsons)

  20. wow says:

    Man! I almost started to feel bad for the guy before. But now? Screw him and the peacock feathers he came in on. Who wouldn’t love to be paid around 40 mil TO BE FIRED from your job? WTH? I’d kissed those studio execs on my way out and happily go.

  21. pickelhaube says:

    Wow, death threats over something so unimportant as a late-night talk show? Priorities, people, priorities! And I like Leno and Conan and wish there was room for both. I don’t understand why everyone has to hate on Leno, he’s as much a victim in this as Conan is. I wish them both well in whatever they do, wherever it may be. Besides, Conan should go back and write for the Simpsons again, they need some help and Conan was so good at it before….

  22. canadianchick says:

    Omg and they say women can be dramatic bitches-this has turned me off late night. I am glad Coco’s staff have compensation for their boss who failed in ratings. Coco is cool hope he returns as he is talented,but not talented enough for the Tonight Show audience though, wouldn’t have happened at all if his ratings were up.

  23. shemsu says:

    hopefully Conan’s staff will get well compensated for the mess they have been put in. I watched the leno monologue last night, And yes he is benefiting fromt he shuffle, but as he said… let me go… and NBC said no, you are too valuable… He’s the CEO of a small business with 175 staff so I believe him when he says that he was thinking of them. Leno seems particularly good at separating the business from the personal – (in his interview with NYT mag back in the summer there was the quote – ‘don’t fall in love with the prostitute”. which sounds like the must-have skill to have in Hollywood. Unfortunatley Conan cannot seem to be able to do that. At the end of the day.. yes they gave leno 2 yrs to get his act together in the early 90’s, but the landscape is different now. Maybe today 4months = 2 yrs for the networks. I mean look how quickly they pull the plug on sitcoms/dramas if they aren’t making the cut. And LOl… yes, i agree with the comment earlier – bunch of white guys in hollywood bickering. Puuullleeassse.

  24. skibunny says:

    Give the $40 million dollars to Haiti and five toe marks to this guy and Leno. Neither one of them are funny or worth this much money. I find this whole thing just greedy and digusting. What’s wrong with society when they put this much value on “no talents”?

  25. emma says:

    well, we don’t know if he’s actually getting 40 mil or not – it’s just a number thrown out there with plenty of other numbers. and if it is really 40 mil, it’s not all going to conan, it also goes to his staff. and i’m with popcorny, sometimes it not always about money.

    i, for one, will never watch leno’s show. and leno is just trying to do damage control. he’s saying that it’s all about ratings. well did he conveniently forget that his ratings sucked for years – years, not months – when he first took it over? so does that mean that in seven months, if his ratings aren’t good, he’ll gladly let go of the show? i doubt it. and conan’s rating before leno show was actually good. he beat dave by the highest margin in the ts history, but now leno is saying that conan’s rating sucks? conan’s ratings dipped after leno came on air. as someone puts it, this whole thing is like: nbc is king solomon and the ts is the baby and in this case king solomon is giving the baby to the person who is willing to cut it in half. leno doesn’t care about the tonight show as long as he’s on at 11:30. like who cares if “the greatest television franchise in history” (as conan refers to it) gets move to the next day. he couldn’t care less so long as leno gets his 11:30 slot back. he didn’t care what would happen to conan’s, jimmy’s, or even carson’s show.

    leno could have walked away after he handed the show over. if he still wanted to work, he would have just had to wait – 9 months or a year? i forgot how long – before he could sign on with a different network. he didn’t want to wait and asked nbc to waive the clause, so nbc gave him 10 o’clock – which i could have told nbc executives that it was doomed from the get go. jeff zuckers sucks!

    i’m curious, there are pro coco rallies in many cities, are there any pro leno rallies out there?

  26. juiceinla says:

    Leno’s “excuse” and finger pointing was absolutely the most pathetic thing I have ever seen. Jay Leno is king of the Douches. that is all.

  27. Dromedary says:

    That’s it, the only late night talk show I’m watching from now on will be Craig Ferguson.

  28. ,,,, says:

    It isn’t solely about the money. And I think it’s silly of people to suggest that NBC should give the money to charity because neither of Conan nor Jay are “worth it.” It has nothing to do with worth. They are buying Conan out of a contract, a legal document. The world would fall apart if contracts meant nothing.

  29. juiceinla says:

    Leno’s “poor me I am a victim too” speech made me gag. Worse, his claims/story are completely refutable and he contradicts fact and his own past statements.

    loved the confession of no animosity toward Conan… and why would he, he blind sided and clothes lined the guy.

    If Leno cared at all about the storied franchise of The Tonight Show, he would have refused to participate in any deal where it was to be “moved” to Midnight or later…for the same reasons Conan did.

    Promised 2 years to make 10pm work? Why Jay, is that how long it takes a new talk show host to garner loyal fans and ratings? It certainly took you well over 2 years to gain a No. 1 audience when you took the Tonight show over.

    Leno says he wanted to go elsewhere and broke his contract?? Nice revisionist history. As I recall, his contract was up and NBC had an agreement to give Conan The Tonight Show….

    I could go on and on picking apart every last sentence of that “explanation”, but I think the point is made.

    Nothing will convince me that Leno didn’t orchestrate every last bit of this fiasco, and demand he get The Tonight Show back.

    As for the money Conan will get- NBC deserves to pay up, they have screwed two late night hosts to keep Leno on. I hope they have to pay every last cent.

  30. Feebee says:

    Popcorny’s summed it up pretty nicely.

    The amt of money that’s being bandied about is sort of irrelevant. He’s being paid off roughly for what his contract may have given him. That’s just fair whether it’s $4,000 or $40mil. The point is he’s losing his dream job because Zucker and Leno seem to have their hands on each other’s dicks. Sorry to be crude but seriously I’m not believing Leno for a nano-second.

    As for Leno’s “I don’t have any anomosity towards Conan”, why should he? Leno’s approaching douche status. He’d have made it already had Jon Gosselin not moved the bar so low last year.

  31. lucy2 says:

    Leno should have followed the “I don’t have any animosity towards Conan” line with “and I hope he doesn’t have any towards me”.
    I agree it’s about more than money, there’s the legal contract, professional respect, years worth of work and commitment, and intellectual property (which NBC reportedly gets to keep).
    Latest I saw was the $40 mil includes the settlement for the staff as well. It’s still an obscene amount of money, of course, but probably a drop in the bucket to what his shows have made NBC over the last 15 years.

  32. Catherine says:

    Ok, let’s put this whole thing to rest. Conan got paid handsomely and now we can move on…right? Maybe? Hopefully?

  33. mrbaskums says:

    I agree with FeeBee – “As for Leno’s “I don’t have any anomosity towards Conan”, why should he? Leno’s approaching douche status. He’d have made it already had Jon Gosselin not moved the bar so low last year.”

    Leno’s a rip off artist and apparently has very little class. Working man my ass.

  34. Jazz says:

    Leno is a tooool and Jeff Zucker looks like a budget George Constanza.

    Team Conan!

  35. Jesus Christ says:

    1915: 1.8 Billion people,
    2010: 6.8 Billion people,
    95 years: 5 Billion people,
    2310: 22 Billion people,
    Solution to problem: Stop Creating Babies,
    I am 100% sure your generations will appreciate not being created and left behind to suffer in that mess of insanity. And it will be one hell of a mess.