BREAKING: Next Week Conan O'Brien's Last?
Bill "The Sports Guy" Simmons, an ESPN columnist and former Jimmy Kimmel Live! writer, tweeted this a little over an hour ago to his million subscribers: "FYI: Next week is Conan's final week hosting the Tonight Show. His staff is trying to book big guests so he goes out with a bang. It's true." Simmons is best friends with Kimmel and pretty plugged in to the late night circuit, so we'd categorize that information as relatively solid.
Meanwhile, Nikki Finke has just learned over the Ari Emanuel red phone that Jeff Zucker, the upwards-failing, fire-breathing child king of NBC Universal, has all but declared war on the deposed late show host:
Zucker "is threatening to ice Conan", according to his reps. "Zucker said, 'I'll keep you off the air for 3 1/2 years.' Which doesn't have a chance in hell of happening. What I really think Zucker wants is to hold him off the market for at least six months to a year until the dust settles and Leno is secure and Conan is squelched." One of the reps even compared Zucker to "Darth Vader" because the NBCU chief "has been so evil" about this.
She describes the scene at Tuesday's ugly meeting, shortly after Conan released the statement his team allegedly begged him not to release. NBC Universal honchos Jeff Gaspin and Marc Graboff sat on one side of the table, while O'Brien's longtime manager -- the Rasputian, restricted-calorie-diet-obsessed Gavin Polone -- sat on the other. Next to him was WME's Rick Rosen, and Patty Glaser, legal pitbull added to the team on Sunday. Zucker and Emanuel weren't present.
On top of that, TMZ reports Conan had no clause specifying his show begin at 11:35 p.m., while Leno did have a 10:00 p.m. clause. The case could play out as such:
Worst Case Scenario
NBC successfully exercises its no-compete clause, keeping Conan off the air as a talk show host for 4 years, and sidestepping any requirements to pay cancellation penalties since the contract never specified what time The Tonight Show airs.
Conan starts a production company, moves into scripted programming and even film.
Medium Case Scenario
Negotiations result in Conan leaving with no penalties paid, but he's free to take any competing offers at rival networks. The Conan O'Brien Show on Fox debuts in record time, Summer 2010. Ratings are moderate, fail to overtake Leno, who's regained his hold on the timeslot from Letterman.
Best Case Scenario
Conan wins all penalties for early cancellation from NBC, and a third-party adjudicator finds in his favor, allowing him to immediately begin developing a talk show at a rival network. The show doesn't beat Leno, but Leno doesn't beat Letterman, who's managed to hold on to his ratings surge since the whole late night shakeup began.
Orgasmic Case Scenario
Conan wins all penalties, gets to start a talk show at rival network. Leno, burned by his treatment, turns NBC down. Zucker has nothing to fill the 11:35 p.m. timeslot, and is finally fired by the NBC Universal board of trustees, never to find work in television again.