I have it from a reliable source, Deadline Hollywood (run by the redoubtable Nikki Finke, subject of a July 2009 profile in the New York Times) that Conan O'Brien will receive $40 million in a settlement with NBC, allowing him to leave the network and go to another broadcaster, where he can compete with Jay Leno in the late night spot. And here I've been feeling kind of sorry for O'Brien, whose dream of hosting The Tonight Show has been cut short after a measly seven months.
In focusing on the infantile public conduct of the dispute by seemingly all sides (including the clueless NBC execs—see "Executive Leaps to Leno's Defense," in last Thursday's New York Times), I'd somehow forgotten about the big bucks involved here. The amounts are truly staggering. These guys make a lot of money. No wonder Leno owns a gazillion cars and reportedly drives a different one to work each day. Take that, you fans slogging to work through sleet and snow on public transportation. (Click on photo to enlarge.)
As for O'Brien, the trauma of moving to Los Angeles from New York City to assume his Tonight Show hosting duties was softened by the purchase of a Brentwood mansion for $10.5 million. In an Open Letter to the "People of Earth," O'Brien at least had the grace to acknowledge that "[f]or 17 years, I've been getting paid to do what I love most and, in a world with real problems, I've been absurdly lucky." Yes, Conan, you have.
Speaking of absurdity, you may wonder why I watch late night television. Usually, I don't. But the temptation to see these overpaid guys slug it out in public this past week got the better of me. I found it compelling and (I confess) amusing to watch grown men take shots at one another, especially since this was only television and not real life. Of course, our elected leaders would never behave like this . . .