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November 1, 2014

Jay Leno vs. Conan O'Brien: The Endgame

by Gary Susman, posted Jan 18th 2010 1:45PM
Today looks like the day the great 'Tonight Show' wars of 2010 will end. NBC is expected to announce today the terms of Conan O'Brien's departure from the network and its plans for Jay Leno to resume his old post at 'The Tonight Show' at its original hour of 11:35PM. Still, a lot of questions remain unanswered. Here's the latest on how we expect it to play out.

• A deal finalizing Conan's departure has been rumored to be imminent since Friday. According to the Hollywood Reporter, official word of that deal should come today, with O'Brien's buyout said to cost NBC as much as $40 million. O'Brien's staffers, many of whom uprooted their lives in New York City to move to Los Angeles for 'The Tonight Show,' are expected to get a generous severance package as well, though some of that may come from the millions paid out to O'Brien himself. Conan's final 'Tonight Show' would be this Friday, Jan. 22. Leno would return to his old job on March 1, after NBC is finished airing the Winter Olympics, though he would broadcast from the new studio built for his 10PM 'Jay Leno Show,' at least at first.

• Still undetermined: Where Conan might end up, how soon he'd be able to launch a new show, and whether he'd be able to bring familiar bits and characters with him. Fox has expressed interest in O'Brien but is waiting until the dust settles and the ink is dry on his NBC exit deal before making him a formal offer. If he goes to Fox, he may be able to get an 11PM show up and running by September, though his agreement with NBC may include a non-compete clause that could keep him off the air until next January. (It may also include a no-badmouthing clause that would silence the anti-NBC trash talk that comprised so much of his comic material last week.) And NBC is expected to claim familiar Conan characters and comedy sketches as its intellectual property, as it did when David Letterman went to CBS in 1993, meaning the network might retain custody of Pimpbot 5000 and "In the Year 3000." But not necessarily Triumph the Insult Comic Dog; it's unclear who owns the rights to the pugnacious pug, a creation of writer Robert Smigel.

Shootout in the NBC Parking Lot


• Conan fans are still expected to stage a rally today in support of Team CoCo outside Universal Studios. (Likely impact of such a rally on NBC Universal's decision: Zilch, though Conan might show footage of it on 'The Tonight Show.')

•Within the offices of NBC, no one seems to be on Team Conan. Outspoken support for Jay has come from NBC Universal Sports Chief Dick Ebersol, who unloaded on Conan in the New York Times on Friday. (Response from the Conan camp: "This is the essence of NBC's problems," a Conan insider told the Wrap. "Conan O'Brien is losing his job because he didn't take the comedy notes of a 62-year-old sports producer." Ebersol, infamous in comedy circles as the producer who nearly drove 'Saturday Night Live' into the ground during a disastrous stretch in the early 1980s before Lorne Michaels returned and rescued the show, will reportedly get another chance to make his case during a visit to 'The Colbert Report' this Wednesday.). Longtime Leno producers Jack Coen and Tracie Fiss went on the record to the Associated Press in defense of their boss, whom they characterized as a good soldier who shouldn't be held responsible for management decisions made by NBC. As for Michaels, who plucked O'Brien from obscurity and made him a star on NBC's 'Late Night,' he's not supporting his old protégé, according to the Los Angeles Times. (The Times says Michaels may still be smarting over the fact that he didn't get a producer credit on 'The Tonight Show' when Conan took over.) Instead, Michaels is throwing his support behind his current protégé, Jimmy Fallon, who now becomes Leno's heir apparent. Fallon's just 35 and can afford to be patient, especially if 59-year-old Leno -- facing continued instability at NBC and stiff competition from a resurgent Letterman and possibly O'Brien as well -- decides it's not worth it to stick around for too many more years.

•O'Brien does have one job offer that appears to be genuine. It's for a cameo on FX's biker gang drama 'Sons of Anarchy,' of all places. Executive Producer Kurt Sutter made the offer in an open letter posted on his blog (link contains some NSFW language). "We have an IRA story line that will continue to play out this coming season and I could use a bad-ass O'Brien on my team," Sutter wrote. (A "bad-ass O'Brien?" The mind reels.) "Guns, blood, fist fights - you could really work some s--- out. Think about it."

•Looks like Carson Daly will still have a job after all. Like anyone cares.

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