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DONE DEAL? Conan’s Leaving, Jay’s Staying — And NBC Is Paying

Today little updates have been coming out about ongoing negotiations between NBC and Conan O’Brien‘s people — for him to leave the network, and the Tonight Show, where he’s been hosting for just seven months after being waiting for it for five years.* At TMZ, reports surfaced that Conan’s big payout from NBC was contingent on a non-disparagement clause (which means no more NBC bashing). Page Six reported that Conan was stiffing his staff, and his manager, Gavin Polone, said that was an “outrageous” lie (Which dovetails with what a Conan staffer told me earlier this week: “[Conan] has repeatedly pledged to take care of everyone and has an excellent track record on loyalty”). The deal is still not official — Polone told The Wrap that “They don’t have to do this…I’ve said it directly to them over and over. ‘Reverse your mistake. Reverse your decision.’” Ouch.

Alas, NBC does not seem so inclined — though it will likely cost them close to $40 million. According to the NYT’s Bill Carter (who has been down this road before), NBC will be paying through the nose to put this behind them:

The main points of the deal have been agreed upon, Mr. Polone said. According to another executive who has been informed of the details of the deal, the settlement will pay Mr. O’Brien more than has been previously reported. Instead of $30 million, the deal will pay him close to $40 million, the executive said.

The O’Brien camp has been fuming about comments made earlier in the week by a top NBC executive, Dick Ebersol, who said the only reason NBC had decided to restore the former “Tonight” host, Jay Leno, to the 11:35 p.m. time period, displacing Mr. O’Brien, was the flagging ratings Mr. O’Brien was scoring with the show.

Sounds like bringing Ebersol out as an attack dog may have backfired on NBC. Though it’s hard to know what is and isn’t working out for NBC here since their logic in handling this situation seems to make so little sense. (Conan’s low ratings are losing them money…so they are paying him $40 million to leave? Amid terrible, terrible PR?)

TMZ is reporting that whatever payout Conan receives from NBC will be offset by whatever deal he makes with another network going forward; the Wrap reports that Conan’s staffers will be looked after and will receive “beyond appropriate compensation.” Meanwhile, TMZ reported late Thursday — and NBC denied — that a new deal had been signed with Leno for the 11:35 p.m. slot. (TMZ is sticking by their original report.)

Meanwhile, Conan’s ratings are off the charts. Reports David Bauder at the AP:

His ratings Friday were 50 percent higher than they’ve been this season, and he beat CBS’ David Letterman, according to a preliminary Nielsen Co. estimate based on large markets. In the 18-to-49-year-old demographic that NBC relies on to set advertising prices, O’Brien even beat Jay Leno’s prime-time show.

(Wow – people in the demo watch Leno?)

Meanwhile, check out this quote from NBC’s Jeff Gaspin to the AP:

“Jay is the consummate professional and one of the hardest-working people in television,” Gaspin said. “It’s a shame that he’s being pulled into this.”

Ummm yes, because he’s such a neutral third party. WHAT?

Various reports indicate that an official announcement could still come today (recall that Hollywood is three hours behind, so these reports started coming out mid-to-late-afternoon PST). Which would be too late for Monday — when rallies have been planned in major cities across the country to demonstrate in favor of O’Brien at NBC locations. For real.

Usually the weekends offer a break from the late-night schedule. Not this time. We’ll keep you posted.

*Anyone else reminded of Jacob, Leah, Rachel and Laban here?

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