Deal brokered by Universal CEO Ron Meyer after all-night negotiations
By Sharon Waxman
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 still has to be formally signed, could be announced as early as Friday.
Individuals in O'Brien's camp declined to comment.
NBCU President and CEO Jeff Zucker, NBCU Television Entertainment Chairman Jeff Gaspin and Co-Chairman NBC Entertainment and NBC Television Studio Marc Graboff were involved in the final all-night negotiations. The deal was brokered by Universal COO Ron Meyer, who was brought in on Tuesday, after talks had reached an impasse.
Key terms to the agreement were worked out between Meyer and Rick Rosen, Conan's agent at WME.
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 abilities 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.
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