BREAKING NEWS! EXCLUSIVE! 11TH UPDATE, SUNDAY 8:50 AM: Below is Saturday Night Live‘s cold opening about the festering late night debacle about to end — now possibly Tuesday after the MLK long weekend — with NBC’s $40 million “don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out” payment to Conan O’Brien that also frees him to compete against Jay Leno immediately. Best line of the show was SNL
Weekend Update anchor Seth Meyers’: “This week you didn’t need Cinemax to see someone screwed on TV.” It’s amazing and bewildering that the network keeps vigorously promoting this comedy of errors to the media via video clips of its own employees denigrating and humiliating the beleaguered brand.
(I asked one SNL insider if there was any behind the scenes bitching from the suits because of the NBC bashing. “None at all.”) Perhaps, at this nadir, NBC has to put ratings above its own reputation. Or maybe there’s just no defense possible. Although Jeff Zucker keeps desperately trotting out more and more NBC execs — first entertainment boss Jeff Gaspin, then sports czar Dick Ebersol, then news topper Steve Capus — to give dictation to The New York Times in support of himself. (When did stenography replace reporting there?) In that article, Zucker tries to play the victim of a media frenzy — but it was a self-inflicted wound. Hollywood is now hearing from people around Zucker how he’s “‘wiped out from his Conan ordeal’,” Deadline New York Editor Mike Fleming learned last night, “Zucker apparently scrapped plans to fly to LA with his family for tonight’s Golden Globes broadcast by NBC or the NBC Universal after-party.
At least that is how he is feeling at the moment.” Meanwhile, someone posting O’Brien’s Tonight Show episodes at NBC’s Hulu.com weighed in on the Team Conan vs Team Leno battle. “When you highlight the January 13th Conan clip with your cursor, the tag reads ‘better than leno’,” a tipster showed me. Then there’s this zinger from O’Brien’s longtime rep Gavin Palone. The manager sent an email to CBS mogul Les Moonves, while this mess unfolded, asking whether “a long time ago you planted Jeff Zucker there as a way to destroy NBC from inside.” Ouch!
10TH UPDATE, FRIDAY 5:15 PM: A settlement of NBC vs Conan is close but not yet signed. “There are still issues to be worked out,” an insider reports back to me. This follows all-day negotiations between NBC and its attorneys, and Team Conan and their manager-agency-lawyer reps. “There’ve been some very intense conversations”.
All are under confidentiality agreements. So to what extent did NBC blink? Remember that all week, as I’ve been reporting, NBCU chief Jeff Zucker stuck to an extreme position that threatened to hold Conan to his contract and keep him off the air for 3 1/2 years and not pay him a penny of that $60M penalty fee if O’Brien doesn’t host The Tonight Show as the network promised. Instead of a prolonged and ugly battle, NBC has given in to Team Conan who’ve insisted their guy exits only with a lot of cash and freedom. How much cash?
“Zucker’s NBC spin puts it at $25 million. But it’s a lot closer to $40 million than $25 million,” my insider says. “And Conan was adamant that NBC take care of the people close to him — [executive producer] Jeff Ross and the staff who moved out to Los Angeles.” According to the pact, Conan leaves The Tonight Show on January 22nd. Meanwhile, he’s free to go anywhere and compete with Jay. This is that Ron Meyer-negotiated deal (which I first reported yesterday at 3 PM). The Universal Studios president/COO was asked to step in secretly by WME agents Ari Emanuel when Team Conan and NBC were so far apart they weren’t even on speaking terms. “They [NBC Universal] were lucky to have Ron.” I’m told the deal might close as soon as Saturday. And NBC’s PR nightmare will end. Or will it? In his Friday night monologue, Conan defended himself against NBC sports czar Dick Ebersole’s very public (and inappropriate) takedown: “In the press this week, NBC has been calling me every name in the book. In fact, they think I’m such an idiot, they now want me to run the network.”