Leno gives his side as O'Brien's exit deal delayed

Tue Jan 19, 2010 2:53am EST
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By Nellie Andreeva

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - As a final signoff on the settlement sealing Conan O'Brien's exit from "The Tonight Show" was pushed by another day, Jay Leno on Monday gave his side of the story of NBC's late-night turmoil, and fans of O'Brien braved the rain to rally support.

O'Brien's settlement with NBC might be worth more than previously thought, up to $45 million-$50 million, when severance packages for "Tonight Show" staff are included. It will allow O'Brien to join another network, possibly Fox, in September.

Leno, O'Brien's "Tonight Show" predecessor, told viewers of his recently canceled "Jay Leno Show" on Monday that "we might have an answer for you tomorrow" on his expected return to "Tonight."

While he had joked about NBC's late-night woes, Leno, a frequent target of a barbs from fellow comedians who blame him for pushing O'Brien out by agreeing to return to late-night, had not seriously addressed the events of the past few weeks until Monday.

He started off with the infamous 2004 decision by NBC brass to set a 2009 date for him to pass the "Tonight" baton to O'Brien despite being the late-night ratings king. He agreed to retire "just to avoid what happened the last time," referring to NBC's previous late-night shake-up when the network picked him over David Letterman in 1992.

Leno said he twice asked NBC to be released from his contract: once in 2009, when he was forced out of "Tonight" to accommodate O'Brien, and once this year, when his primetime show was canceled.

NBC turned down his request both times, first offering him a primetime show and then a half-hour show at 11:35 p.m.

He accepted both times, the first time despite the fact a 10 p.m. talk show "didn't seem like a good idea at the time," and the second time after NBC brass assured him that O'Brien would agree to the "Tonight' move to 12:05 p.m., Leno said.   Continued...

<p>Host Jay Leno gestures during a panel at the Television Critics Association Cable summer press tour in Pasadena, California in this August 5, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>