January 22, 2010
Conan O’Brien and NBC to Part Ways
By BILL CARTER
Say farewell to Conan O’Brien.
After a last long night of negotiations, the deal to end Mr. O’Brien’s short term as host of “The Tonight Show” was concluded with an agreement that will pay him about $32 million and free him up to return to television in eight months.
The deal is expected to be announced formally later Thursday. NBC confirmed early Thursday morning only that a deal was signed.
After Mr. O’Brien’s manager, Gavin Polone, told the Web site The Wrap that a deal was signed late last night West Coast time, NBC itself had brief reports this morning that the deal had been concluded.
Mr. O’Brien has been pointing to Friday as his last night in the job during a week of special appearances and walk-ons by many of the biggest stars who have been regular guests on the show. He will now have an official farewell show Friday night with two of late-night television’s most sought-after guests, Tom Hanks and Will Ferrell, and with Neil Young as the final musical guest.
Thursday’s agreement ends what has been a tense couple of weeks at NBC.
Mr. O’Brien’s “Tonight Show” has slumped in the ratings, and in response, NBC earlier this month decided to move Jay Leno and his show to the 11:35 p.m. time slot, bumping “The Tonight Show” and Mr. O’Brien to 12:05 a.m.
But Mr. O’Brien said he would not agree to what he considered a demotion, and said that he would leave the network. Since then, Mr. O’Brien, who had a guaranteed contract for another two and a half years at a salary that has been reported to be $10 million to $20 million a year, has been negotiating his departure.
Thursday’s agreement appears to set the stage for Mr. O’Brien to go to another network later this year. At least one network, Fox, has made public its interest in a possible show with Mr. O’Brien, though many questions remain about how easily that network could clear the late-night schedules of its stations to make room.