Over the weekend, while the Hollywood community was briefly distracted by the Golden Globes (where “Avatar” began its march toward award-winning immortality), the team of lawyers looking to extract Conan O’Brien from NBC were hard at work, and it looks like the deal is in its final stages. According to a report in The Hollywood Reporter, O’Brien will make his exit from “The Tonight Show” to the tune of close to $40 million. The package includes walk-away money for Conan’s longtime executive producer and the crew members of “The Tonight Show,” many of whom uprooted their lives and followed O’Brien from New York to Los Angeles when he assumed the job seven months ago. Jay Leno will return to the time slot he never really wanted to leave in the first place: At 11:35, as the host of “The Tonight Show.”
So we are suddenly thrust into Conan O’Brien’s final week as the host of “The Tonight Show” after less than a year on the job (his final show will be this Friday, January 22). According to the report, O’Brien will not have a non-compete rider attached to his severance deal, which means that we could see Conan back on TV sooner rather than later. Or he could just take some time off to enjoy himself and plot his revenge on NBC execs and Leno.
Either way, he has to make this final week count. While there probably won’t be much ballyhoo over his final show on Friday (especially considering the nature of his exit and how public it has been), there is still plenty of time to pull out all the stops. Conan should make sure all of his beloved characters — Masturbating Bear, Triumph and the like — get a place in the sun before the plug is pulled. And considering Leno had Conan on as his final guest on “The Tonight Show” as a way to hand off the late-night torch, Conan should really try to book Jay for his show on Friday and then just stare at him uncomfortably for an hour. The late-night wars have come to a close for now, but the next chapter is on the horizon, and we’ll be there, sort of groggy and looking for laughs.