'Chicken-Hearted,' 'Gutless' Conan O'Brien Reportedly Has Deal to Leave NBC
Well! The road is smoothing out a bit after arguably the most turbulent day in late-night history. While we'd already heard that next week would be Conan O'Brien's last on The Tonight Show, a report published late Thursday states that O'Brien has reached a settlement with NBC that would get him paid and allow him back on the air at a competing network within months. If, that is, the host can safely extract himself from the beak of a rabid peacock that very, very publicly chewed into him this morning.
According to The Daily Beast, dueling squads of agents, lawyers and network brass came together under the shepherding hand of Ron Meyer, the Universal Studios boss and former agent whose connections and negotiating expertise helped finesse this bloodbath to something resembling a resolution. In this settlement, NBC would pay O'Brien an undisclosed sum; it's not clear whether this amount comes from what's remaining on his Tonight Show contract or from the penalty it supposedly owes him for attempting to shift O'Brien's show to 12:05. The deal could still fall apart, but as the report (and common sense) rightly notes, it's in the battered network's best interest to get Coco off its air and off the lot as soon as legally if not humanly possible.
Meanwhile, the bloodshed has extended hilariously to Craigslist, where the flagging and reposting of O'Brien's ad selling The Tonight Show has gone on all night and should continue until a deal is officially struck. And O'Brien won't get away from the network completely unscathed, either, at least not if NBC lifer and current sports-division chief Dick Ebersol has anything to say about it -- in the New York Times:
Referring to the pointed jokes made this week by Mr. O'Brien and David Letterman of CBS, Mr. Ebersol said it was "chicken-hearted and gutless to blame a guy you couldn't beat in the ratings."
He added that "what this is really all about is an astounding failure by Conan." [...] He said he had met personally with the host three weeks before he stepped behind the Tonight desk for the first time to urge him to take steps to expand the appeal he had built up in his Late Night years, saying that NBC hosts beginning with Johnny Carson had recognized the importance of making the show appealing first and foremost to cities in the central time zone like Chicago and Des Moines.
O'Brien will no doubt find an appropriate response to this when the time is right (read: 11:35 tonight), but in the mean time, dammmmnnn. First of all, let's get this straight: Leno was the one flailing in the Nielsens, not O'Brien. NBC 's 10 p.m. hour was way down from a year prior, and both affiliate mutiny and Leno's ego forced the network's hand. Letterman may have overtaken The Tonight Show, but not because audiences in Chicago didn't get it. Nice try, though, Dick.
Furthermore, it's one thing to call your own late-night flagship captain chicken-hearted and gutless (and I wouldn't entirely disagree), but is it misreading the situation to ask Chicago and Des Moines and the rest of the central time zone if they're going to let themselves be treated like this? It sounds an awful lot like Ebersol just said something along the lines of, "You get the Tonight Show you deserve, suckers." I guess we'll see if it's really the one they want when Coco's competition lands elsewhere later year. Developing...
· Conan's Exit Confirmed [The Daily Beast]