01.14.10

Conan's Exit Confirmed

The late-night nightmare is almost over. Conan O’Brien is leaving NBC and receiving a payout—and he’ll be free to appear on another network before his contract expires, Kim Masters reports.

The NBC-Leno-Conan war is close to ending, according to a knowledgeable source. According to the outlines of a settlement, Conan O'Brien will leave NBC and the network will make an as-yet unspecified payment. The comedian will be free to appear elsewhere on television well before his contract expires, despite earlier threats from NBC that it would prevent him from working anywhere else.

There is still opportunity for the negotiation to fall apart, but clearly, at this point it is in NBC's interest to put an end to this dismal episode.

It seems that Ron Meyer, the affable chief of the Universal film studio, played a key role in bringing the parties together when they were at an impasse and talks had broken down. Meyer is a former agent whose industry relationships run deep and wide. And of course, he has lots of negotiating experience.

According to the source, the resolution to the epic and highly public battle came down primarily to the size of the check that NBC would write to O'Brien. That amount remains shrouded in mystery for now, and no doubt the parties will have to agree to confidentiality as part of the deal.

According to a knowledgeable insider, NBC Universal started out sincerely hoping that it would be able to keep O'Brien on NBC in a 12:05 a.m. slot behind Leno, who is to be reinstated at 11:35 p.m. Part of the resolution was getting executives there to understand that the plan simply was unrealistic.

At that point, with late-night comics across the television landscape piling on night after night—and with Leno being increasingly vilified and undoubtedly chafing at the public lashing he was getting—it was obvious that the situation had to be resolved.

Video: Clips of the Late-Night Showdown

Bryan Curtis: Good Riddance to Conan
It remains unclear where O'Brien might go next. The most obvious place is Fox, but top executives at the company have been scrupulous about avoiding any appearance that they tried to lure O'Brien there while his relationship with NBC remained unresolved. Should Fox go forward with a late-night show with O'Brien now, it will take months before he would be ready to go on the air.

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NBCU Photo Bank NBC via AP Images (2); Everett Collection (2)

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Kim Masters covers the entertainment business for The Daily Beast. She is also the host of The Business, public radio's weekly program about the business of show business. She is also the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everybody Else.