Conan O'Brien and NBC have finally reached a deal that will mean the end of the latenight comedian's career on the troubled network.

O'Brien, who would have lost his 11:35 p.m. latenight timeslot to Jay Leno had he stayed at the network, will be paid $33 million in severance by NBC, with another $12 million for his staff of some 200 employes, according to AP.


O'Brien, in turn, will be prohibited from disparaging NBC, and will not be able to appear on a competitor until September. Friday night's show will be his last, and it surely cannot come soon enough for NBC. With big-name guests who are friends of O'Brien's coming on to say farewell, and O'Brien devoting a large part of his monologue to making fun of NBC, "The Tonight Show" had become steeped in just the kind of disparagement that NBC wants to stop.

Wednesday night's show was a case in point.

After telling the audience at the start of his monologue that he has just returned from interviewing for a job at "Lady Footlocker," O'Brien said that he should have known NBC wasn't to be trusted when they gave him a 2010 calendar that only went through January. (In fact, he won't make it past the 22nd.)

He then pointed out that ratings were "up by 50 percent" for "The Tonight Show" in recent days as details of his messy divorce with the network were being negotiated.

But it was only a setup for a punchline saying that the suits at NBC read the ratings as evidence that Conan "really didn't fit in around here" with all the last-place network's ratings losers.

And on it went until "The Masturbating Bear" joined O'Brien onstage. By the way, it appears that any intellectual property like the bear created by Conan and his staff while on the air at NBC, will stay with the network under terms of the agreement.

Referring to severance negotiations, O'Brien said NBC promised him that his staff would be taken care of: They would be taken to a "big farm where they would be allowed to run forever," he cracked sarcastically.

O'Brien, who had been offered the chance to stay at NBC and keep "The Tonight Show" if he would agree to the 30 minute delay in start time, did have wretched ratings seven months into his run -- there is no denying that fact. Part of that can be attributed to the trainwreck of Jay Leno in prime time, but when Leno gave up the "Tonight Show" in May, he was number one in the ratings and had more young viewers than O'Brien. In terms of overall audience, O'Brien finishes behind David Letterman and ABC's "Nightline."

While some analysts have predicted O'Brien will end up on Fox in September, that network would still have to "clear" the time with its affiliates to make that happen -- and that is a complicated matter.

It was, in fact, the affiliates that ultimately forced NBC to take Leno out of prime time after only 17 weeks -- the move that started the chain reaction that led to O'Brien leaving NBC.

The same NBC executives responsible for the Leno disaster now say they will make so much money in latenight with Leno compared to O'Brien that the buyout to the 46-year-old comedian will pay for itself within a year. Believe them if you want.

Wednesday night's guests were Adam Sandler and Joel McHale. Thursday's lineup includes Robin Williams and Barry Manilow. Tom Hanks, Will Ferrell and Neil Young will join O'Brien for what will be his last night on-air at NBC.

Leno will return to "The Tonight Show" on March 1.

[AP photo]


Here's the statement from NBC:

"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."