It’s Over! NBC to Pay Conan $30M

Deal brokered by Universal President Ron Meyer, all-night negotiations between Zucker, Gaspin and O’Brien reps

This story was updated to add detail and amended to correct imprecisions at 5:30 p.m. from an earlier version.
NBC has its way out of the Conan Crisis.
The network has agreed to pay O’Brien $30 million to vacate the 11:35 p.m. "Tonight Show," individuals involved in the negotiations have told TheWrap.

The deal, which may still be in the process of finalization, could be announced as early as this weekend. has to be formally signed,will be announced on Friday.

Individuals in O’Brien’s camp declined to comment. Update at 6:20 pm: O’Brien publicist Leslee Dart emailed "Nothing (is) signed yet. Those figures are not accurate."

But others described the negotations in detail.

According to knowledgeable individuals, the deal was brokered by Universal President Ron Meyer, who was brought in on Tuesday after talks had reached an impasse and both sides were threatening to bring lawsuits. Meyer, a former agent, brought both sides together in an attempt to reach a resolution to the programming crisis, having been sought out by Ari Emanuel, at William Morris Endeavor.

Key terms to the agreement – including the $30 million payout — were worked out between Meyer and Rick Rosen, Conan’s agent at WME, one knowledgeable individual said.

But many further details remained unresolved by Thursday. NBCU President and CEO Jeff Zucker, NBCU Television Entertainment Chairman Jeff Gaspin and Co-Chairman NBC Entertainment and NBC Televison Studio Marc Graboff were involved in the final, all-night negotiations with O’Brien’s representatives.

In his monologue on Friday, Conan sounded like he was out the door:

"Hi, I’m Conan O’Brien — future answer to a $200 “Jeopardy” question.
"Welcome to tonight’s show. By the time you see this, I’ll be halfway to Rio in a stolen NBC traffic copter."
"In the press this week, NBC has been calling me every name in the book. In fact, they think I’m such an idiot they now want me to run the network."
"According to the Nielsen Company our ratings are way, way up this week. And that’s nothing — wait till you see what we have planned for February."

The deal came following a battle between the two camps over whether O’Brien’s contract specifically guaranteed that "The Tonight Show" must air at 11:35 p.m.

As TheWrap previously reported, Team Conan was insisting that NBC has breached O’Brien’s contract because, it argued, the deal had a timeslot guarantee.

NBC’s response: No, there is no such guarantee of a specific timeslot for "Tonight." So as long as we keep something called "The Tonight Show" on the air, there is no breach.

If NBC had been in breach, it would have owed Conan around $40 million (and as much as $50 million, according to some reports), as a penalty.

People close to NBC insisted the network would not yield on this point — it wouldn’t admit it had breached O’Brien’s deal.

One solution that had been on the table Friday, according to TheWrap’s Josef Adalian: Agreeing to disagree over the timeslot issue and instead settling on a pay or play fee.

Under this proposal, the sooner O’Brien starts a new gig — if he starts one — the less money it would have to pay. So if Conan managed to land a new job at Fox within a year, the Peacock might shell out less than the full $30 million.

It’s unlear if that’s how the two sides settled out.

As TheWrap first reported, NBC had also been looking to enforce some sort of non-compete period in which Conan couldn’t work for anyone else, period. The parties had been looking at a time as early as September or as late as next January for O’Brien to be free.

With talks entering the final stages, positioning over what led to this crisis started heating up.

Team NBC started the assault by putting sports czar Dick Ebersol on the phone with the New York Times, who tore into O’Brien in a Friday interview. Then, Conan’s camp made it clear Friday that it was "absolutely untrue" that O’Brien’s deal didn’t have timeslot protection.

NBC responded by questioning the abilties of O’Brien’s legal teams in the same sort of language Ebersol had used to slam O’Brien’s hosting skills.

"All the chatter is just his reps covering up for their massive f— up," an NBC insider said. "Leno had timeslot protection in his deal, Letterman has it in his. But Team Coco never negotiated for it."

O’Brien’s lawyer, Leigh Brecheen at Bloom Hergott, could be quite embarrassed if it turns out there was no timeslot guarantee.

But O’Brien’s camp believes NBC was just trying to change the subject from its own massive mishandling of the late-night mess.

In any case, that’s now all for historians to figure out. The question now is: What’s next for O’Brien?

Fox has expressed interest in the host, but must first determine whether it’s worth the headaches that would come with having to get affiliates on board.

Anatomy of a Late-Night Meltdown
The Vilification of Jay Leno — Loud, Nasty and Fleeting
Team Conan Responds to Zucker, er, Ebersol
Conan Could Be Free to Jump by Fall
NBC Hasn’t Done Anything Right by Leno Since 2004