Conan's Exit Papers May Be Delivered Today
NBC is expected to announce as early as today (Monday) that Conan O'Brien will leave The Tonight Show on Friday and that Jay Leno will return as host of the late-night show on March 1, following the Winter Olympics. Leno's current primetime show is due to end on February 12. Most reports, citing people familiar with the negotiations, said that O'Brien and his staff are expected to receive a $30-40-million settlement. But entertainment attorney Jonathan Handel, in a commentary posted on the Huffington Post website, noted that the actual payout is likely to be far less than that amount, particularly if O'Brien moves to another network. In a typical severance deal, Handel observed, O'Brien is obligated to seek other employment and if he succeeds in doing so, whatever he then earns would be offset against NBC's settlement payments. "Naturally, Conan's representatives will seek a 'no offset' clause," Handel wrote. "This would be a hard-fought point, however. NBC would argue that Conan would be getting a windfall and, even worse, that he'll be cashing those checks while competing against NBC itself." Ironically, O'Brien is leaving The Tonight Show while his ratings have been soaring. Last week, they rose 50 percent above his season average, and he beat David Letterman both in overall viewers and adults 18-49. Perhaps more significantly, his ratings were also higher than Jay Leno's.