Leno Back At 'Tonight' Chair, O'Brien Earns $40 Mil Exit Fee

For the error of its late-night programming ways, NBC will revamp "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" after only seven months on the job and pay out $40 million in penalties, re-installing Jay Leno as the show's host.

Multiple reports suggest a settlement between NBC and Conan O'Brien (and his staff) could be finalized today, after talks over the weekend. Jay Leno will resume as the host of the decades-long late-night institution -- a job he held since 1993 -- after the Vancouver Winter Olympics ends in late February, according to news stories.

NBC's previous plan to move "The Tonight Show" to 12:05 am with O'Brien at the helm -- and put Leno in place at 11:35 a.m. in a half-hour talk show similar to the one he had at 10 p.m. -- was rejected by O'Brien.

O'Brien would be free to pursue other ventures as early as September. He's likely to land at Fox. However, analysts say Fox may need more time to arrange such a deal, in part, because most of its affiliates have syndicated or other shows committed for 11 p.m. time slots.



Since O'Brien's tenure as "The Tonight Show" host, he has given up the dominant lead Leno maintained for over a decade among key 18-49 viewers. "Late Show with David Letterman" has been regularly beating "Tonight" among 18-49 viewers and overall total viewers. To his credit, O'Brien has been grabbing better younger 18-34 viewer numbers than Leno.

Since the start of the controversy, however --- now about a week or so old -- O'Brien has rocketed up to the No. 1 position in 18-49 viewership.

7 comments about "Leno Back At 'Tonight' Chair, O'Brien Earns $40 Mil Exit Fee ".
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  1. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, January 18, 2010 at 9:41 a.m.

    Conan O'Brien is the big winner. 40 million bucks and he only disappoints a handful of folks who think he's Jay Leno.

  2. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., January 18, 2010 at 12:36 p.m.

    Seriously, this is like re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

  3. Robin Yeatman from Tallahassee Democrat, January 18, 2010 at 1:29 p.m.

    This news makes me happy. I love Leno but haven't really enjoyed the new format. I hope it goes back to the way it was before.

  4. Alex Mueller from Smokey Joe Entertainment, January 18, 2010 at 3:32 p.m.

    Leno isn't funny and he has no class.

  5. Rich Reader from WOMbuzz, January 18, 2010 at 5:28 p.m.

    Worse than unwise in perpetrating this change, NBCU has demonstrated that their institution is blatantly anti-social #NBCU-Anti-Social http://bit.ly/5oApne

  6. Gerald Troutman, January 18, 2010 at 6:02 p.m.

    Unless Leno comes roaring back with a better show and more talent than he had before O'Brien took the chair, Letterman will continue to hold the lead. NBC may not get a free just-kidding-I-take-it-back on this one from the viewers.

  7. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, January 20, 2010 at 3:12 a.m.

    Wise decision - Leno is an institution - But to me, I just want to know where I can watch day-old monologues of both performers without regard to any time slot or network they originally performed in. Does anyone have a link to see old monologues for free?

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