EXCLUSIVE: Updated story here: It’s Over! NBC to Pay Conan $30M
Conan O’Brien is likely to walk away from NBC with at least $25 million — but just how much he makes depends on how long he remains unemployed.
That’s the word from sources close to both camps, who said a deal continues to slowly be hammered out — but isn’t likely to be completed on Friday.
As TheWrap previously reported, Team Conan is insisting that NBC has breached O’Brien’s contract because, it argues, the deal guarantees "The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien" will air at 11:35 p.m.
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.
"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’s no timeslot guarantee. But O’Brien’s camp believes NBC is just trying to change the subject from its own massive mishandling of the late-night mess.
Why is the matter of the timeslot guarantee so crucial?
Well, if NBC has promised Conan 11:35, it owes him around $40 million (perhaps $50 million by some reports) as a penalty. If not, the network isn’t liable for that amount
People close to NBC insist the network will not yield on this point — it won’t admit it’s breached O’Brien’s deal.
But that doesn’t mean the network is offering O’Brien nothing. Far from it.
Insiders said the network is willing to pay "in the ballpark" of $25 million to let O’Brien leave NBC early.
The O’Brien camp calls this an early termination fee. But NBC insiders believe this to be a sum that needs to be negotiated as a pay or play deal — and that’s at the crux of the talks that are ongoing.
Specifically, NBC believes that the sooner O’Brien starts a new gig — if he starts one — the less money it should have to pay. So if Conan manages to land a new job at Fox within a year, the Peacock would shell out less than the full $25 million (or whatever the ultimate sum both sides spin to the press ends up being).
As TheWrap first reported, NBC also wants a non-compete period in which Conan can’t work for anyone else, period. Right now, the parties are looking at a time as early as September or as late as next January for O’Brien to be free.
So as of 4 p.m. Friday on a holiday weekend, the legal wrangling over what the contract for O’Brien does or does not say has become a messy war over both money — and reputation.