Conan O'Brien will receive $45 million for himself and his staff in an exit deal clearing the way for Jay Leno to return as host of The Tonight Show, NBC announced Thursday.
O'Brien will receive $33 million, with another $12 million to be divided among his 200-plus employees as severance, under terms of the deal announced on NBC's Today. O'Brien's last show will be Friday, and Leno will return to Tonight, the show he hosted for 17 years, on March 1.
O'Brien will be allowed to appear on another network as early as September, but likely without such old friends as Masturbating Bear. Characters and bits created for NBC will remain the property of the network, NBC said. The fate of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, created and voiced by O'Brien's writer and longtime friend Robert Smigel, was unclear.
After more than a week of backstage negotiations and onstage barbs at NBC from all corners of late night, and after a months-long stretch of intense scrutiny and debate over an expensive and ultimately failed handover of the coveted Tonight Show from Jay to Conan, NBC's late night schedule will end up looking like it has for nearly two decades. Jay Leno will host Tonight at 11:35, followed by a younger host with Saturday Night Live connections at 12:35. Except now that host will be Jimmy Fallon, who took over Late Night from O'Brien earlier this year in anticipation of O'Brien's move to The Tonight Show.
Another change: NBC's failed experiment with putting Leno in prime time forced programmers to scramble to fill a third of their prime-time, weekday schedule. "At the end of the day Jay at 10 o'clock didn't work," NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker told The New York Times, "and I take responsibility for that."
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