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The big winners in NBC/Conan exit deal: David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel



Conan_reaction  With the stroke of a pen at 1 a.m. Thursday, Conan O'Brien and NBC ended the public phase of the biggest mistake in network TV history.

As every news outlet in America has reported by now, O'Brien finalized a deal with NBC to leave the network, completing the network's long backpedal from parking Jay Leno at 10 p.m. this fall. Friend and fellow critic Aaron Barnhart insists NBC's string of missteps in late night TV reaches back to giving Jay Leno the Tonight Show over David Letterman in the mid'90s.

I say they've only really screwed up since 2004, when they made notoriously insincere workaholic Leno make a promise he never intended to keep: that he would turn over the Tonight Show to someone else in five years.

O'Brien gets $44-million, including severance for his staffers, and the ability to work elsewhere after Sept 1. NBC gets Leno back at the Tonight Show March 1, enough old O’Brien “intellectual property” to keep him from cloning his show on another network and a promise O’Brien won’t slag them in the press for a while.

You can hear me on National Public Radio's All Things Considered this afternoon chewing over the deal, and I also was quoted briefly in Backstage magazine's piece, "The Peacock Is Burning."

Here's my thoughts on where things stand for everyone now:

Jay.Leno Jay Leno -- Exposed as the guy who somehow got his old job back, even though NBC's crisis in late night AND prime time was caused by his failure at 10 p.m., Leno has got to get beyond looking like he stuck a knife in O'Brien's back. Young viewers ow don't just think he's sad or boring, they hate him for dethroning Conan, and a one-month break from the Winter Olympics may not solve that.

Conan O'Brien -- He'll probably try to cut a deal with the Fox network or FX, which has expressed interest in him. But I'd like to see him head to Comedy Central instead at 10 p.m., just before Jon Stewart's Daily Show and Stephen Colbert's Colbert Report. He could focus on the young, smart audience which loves him and augment his tiny cable TV salary with NBC's forget-you money.

Dave-w-beard David Letterman -- Only NBC could figure out how to hand big ratings to rival Letterman while also making us forget the painful sex scandal he endured last year. Despite rumors Letterman might consider retirement soon, I hope he doesn't consider O'Brien as a successor. Here's hoping he sees Leno's return as more inspiration to bring the noise on CBS, enjoying increased rating for himself and 12:30 p.m. master Craig Ferguson -- the rightful heir to Letterman's throne.

Jimmy Kimmel -- Finally, O'Brien's flameout at NBC secures his position at ABC. Before now, Kimmel Jimmy_fallon_patriot always had to face the threat that ABC might hire Leno or O'Brien and move his show back to 12:35 p.m. Now ABC knows that Nightline does better than O'Brien at 11:35 p.m. and Leno has recommitted to NBC, making Kimmel the second-biggest winner in all this behind Letterman.

Jimmy Fallon -- I hope the newest late night host was taking notes. Because, eventually, NBC is going to want to replace Leno again -- and he's the next guy standing in line.

Here's a few of O'Brien's parting shots at NBC:

Here's the official statements from everyone.


  Leno-Letterman-Obrienjpg    NBC and Conan O’Brien have reached a resolution of the issues surrounding O’Brien’s contract to host “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.”

Under terms of an agreement that was signed earlier today, NBC and O’Brien will settle their contractual obligations and the network will release O’Brien from his contract, freeing him to pursue other opportunities after September 1, 2010.

O’Brien will make his final appearance as host of “The Tonight Show” on January 22.


    UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. - January 21, 2010 - NBC confirmed today that popular late-night host Jay Leno will return to host “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” from 11:35 p.m.-12:35 a.m. (ET) beginning March 1, 2010 and that “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” will continue to be broadcast from 12:35-1:35 a.m. (ET). The announcements were made by Jeff Gaspin, Chairman, NBC Universal Television Entertainment. “We’re pleased that Jay is returning to host the franchise that he helmed brilliantly and successfully for many years,” said Gaspin. “He is an enormous talent, a consummate professional and one of the hardest-working performers on television.”

Leno previously hosted “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” from May 1992-May 2009. The program will continue to showcase many of the features that made Leno America’s late-night leader for more than a dozen years.

“The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” is from Big Dog Productions in association with Universal Media Studios. Debbie Vickers is the executive producer.

“Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” made its broadcast debut on March 2, 2009 with “Saturday Night Live” alum Fallon as the host of the comedy-talk show. The program serves as a platform for comedy, music and A-list talent out of NBC’s Rockefeller Center Studio 6B. Fallon is joined by his house band -- the critically acclaimed, Grammy-winning hip-hop band The Roots. Earlier, Fallon launched his “Late Night” video blog (or “vlog”), giving viewers behind-the-scenes access to his preparation for the show’s official launch at

Fallon joined the cast of “Saturday Night Live” in 1998 and quickly became an audience favorite for his impressions of actors and musicians as well as for creating many memorable recurring characters. In 2000, he became co-anchor of the segment “Weekend Update” alongside Tina Fey. Fallon also appeared in the Emmy Award-winning miniseries “Band of Brothers,” and his feature films include “Almost Famous,” “Taxi” and “Fever Pitch.”

Lorne Michaels, Emmy Award-winning creator of “Saturday Night Live,” is “Late Night’s” executive producer. Michael Shoemaker, also an Emmy Award winner, is the producer, bringing over 20 years of experience at “Saturday Night Live.” Gavin Purcell, from G4’s critically praised “Attack of the Show,” serves as co-producer. “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” is a production of Universal Media Studios in association with Broadway Video Entertainment.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 3:04pm]


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