Conan O'Brien Juggles Adoring Fans, Industry Backlash
NBC fired O'Brien and paid him a reported $40 million to walk away from his contract after disappointing ratings seven months into his hosting of 'The Tonight Show.' In return, Big Red agreed not to appear on television until May 1 or accept a new hosting gig until September.
The Hollywood Reporter first reported that NBC refused to waive that provision to allow O'Brien to appear on 'Idol Gives Back,' 'American Idol's' April 21 charity fundraiser. Fox is also the network most widely tipped to be O'Brien's next employer.
But what may come as a surprise to the millions of members of "Team CoCo" -- the grassroots fans who campaigned for Conan to keep his job at 'The Tonight Show' -- is that even TV insiders who don't like NBC feel that if the network paid O'Brien $40 million to stay off the air, Conan should honor the deal.
"If he's going to take the money, he should follow the rules," said one industry manager, himself a veteran of some bruising battles with NBC. "If you look at the Conan situation as a whole, I think [NBC] were nicer than they should have been."
Another source told PopEater: "Assuming Conan signs a deal when he is legally able to this September, he still gets to keep the $40 mill. That's a lot of money for a nine month vacation, especially considering he trashed NBC night after night on the air. A lot of people don't think he deserved such a payday after the way he behaved."
O'Brien is not keeping his feet up, of course. From April through June he will be playing his 30-city 'Legally Prohibited From Being Funny On Television Tour,' a comedy jaunt capitalizing on his recent career hiccup. But while Team CoCo will no doubt be buying tickets in force, O'Brien could face a chilly reality when he returns to the TV bargaining table.
"Conan has a lot of buzz, and there's a lot of interest in hiring him," says the second source. "But still, every network knows he couldn't bring in the eyeballs when it really mattered on NBC. That is going to be reflected in any future offer."
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