Conan O'Brien's Emmys speech legally restricted

Thu Aug 26, 2010 9:14am EDT
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By Matthew Belloni

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Memo to Conan O'Brien: Watch your mouth at the Emmys.

If O'Brien wins Sunday night in the variety, music or comedy series category for his aborted "The Tonight Show" -- a distinct possibility given the strong Hollywood and populist sentiment behind him in his public separation from NBC -- the host is legally prohibited from saying whatever he wants about his former bosses during an acceptance speech.

That's because O'Brien's settlement deal with the network contains strict rules against making "disparaging" comments about NBC or NBC Studios, Jay Leno and NBC executives Jeff Zucker, Dick Ebersol, Jeff Gaspin and Marc Graboff.

Those limitations end September 1, but the Emmys, which air on NBC, take place three days before that deadline. The event marks one of the first times O'Brien and his former bosses will be together in the same room. A win for "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien" would present a rare moment of high drama at the Emmys.

So what can O'Brien say? More than one might think.

The Hollywood Reporter has learned that O'Brien's settlement deal describes disparaging comments as "those that are false and would be viewed by a reasonable person to be insulting or defamatory."

The key word is "false." O'Brien can poke fun at his former bosses or even take a shot at Leno as long as his remarks are not both inaccurate and scornful.

"He can still have a field day," said attorney Pierce O'Donnell, who has handled employment settlements in Hollywood cases but was not involved in the O'Brien deal. "He can make fun of NBC's ratings, its shows, as long as he's not saying anything false."   Continued...

<p>Conan O'Brien hosting the 54th annual Emmy Awards in 2002. REUTERS/Adrees Latif</p>