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Conan O'Brien worth $32.5 million?

On the Today show this morning, NBC announced it had reached a $32.5 million deal with Conan O'Brien for his exit from the "Tonight" show. Read the full article.

Did he settle for the amount or should he have asked for more afer having his life uprooted?

By Jodi Westrick  |  January 21, 2010; 8:20 AM ET  | Category:  National Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Poorly worded question. The question should be, what do you pay someone who was promised the best job in his field, who's old job was given to someone else, who moves his family and staff across the country to take the job, and then has it yanked it out from under him within 7 months?

Posted by: graceld99 | January 21, 2010 8:37 AM

Conan isn't funny, has never been funny since he started over a decade ago. I'm truly amazed he's been on this long and NBC still thinks they owed him anything.

I mean, he took over the Tonight show and in seven months cut its ratings in half! He's getting a $45 million dollar severance for doing a poor job? Makes no sense.

Posted by: agupta1 | January 21, 2010 8:41 AM

Pose this question to America's unemployed.

And try to explain to them what kind of twisted values a society must have to pay a late-night television comic $45 million because he has failed -- while a record number of blameless Americans have no other option but to take food stamps.

Posted by: WhatHeSaid | January 21, 2010 8:45 AM

Everyone is "worth" $45 million. We're all priceless. Fact is, just few of us ever actually get paid it.

Posted by: WebHarmonyLLC | January 21, 2010 8:54 AM

Since Conan isn't the one forcing the change, shouldn't the question really be:
Is moving Leno back to 11:35 worth $45 million?

Because the cheapest option would be to cancel Leno at 10 and leave Conan on at 11:35, which leaves Leno free to move on.

Is having Leno worth $45 million more than having Conan? I'd argue no; I can't imagine that the advertising rates for The Tonight Show will go up enough to earn back $45 million in any reasonable time frame. Of course, I don't know what advertising rates are, so I suppose it's possible.

Posted by: BurninNation | January 21, 2010 9:05 AM

The question really should be... Is Jay Leno worth $45 million? I don't think so.

Posted by: y1776 | January 21, 2010 9:11 AM

Considering that Conan is standing between GE and Comcast who want to sell and buy NBC respectively, he is worth every penny of that.

Posted by: lostinthemiddle | January 21, 2010 9:16 AM

If Fox can't clear Conan nationwide, the next question will be: Will Conan accept a late-night slot opposite Jay . . . on the USA cable channel?

That would fit Jeff Zucker's long-term strategy, now fully visible: to build up the cable channels at the expense of the broadcast network.

Posted by: mattintx | January 21, 2010 9:18 AM

No one should be paid that much. The disparity of wealth in this country is destroying our society. It is the cause of the prolonged recession we are suffering through. Capitalism without controls inevitably spirals into total destruction.

Posted by: KateSaunders | January 21, 2010 9:18 AM

So, the going rate for someone's dream since childhood is $45 Million?

Connan you sold your dreams cheap!

Posted by: allen0925 | January 21, 2010 9:28 AM

What matters is that the people writing the checks do ... Same is true for the folks that think Alex Rodriguez is worth $275M.

Posted by: rkwilsox1 | January 21, 2010 9:37 AM

So, we're Mad As Hell that some Wall Street trader is being given a bonus of $1 million, but $45 million to an entertainer is acceptable?

Posted by: Ex-Fed | January 21, 2010 10:04 AM

The question is not whether Conan is worth $45 mil, but whether his disappearance is worth $45 mil.

Posted by: pundito | January 21, 2010 10:05 AM

I think the more appropriate questions is whether it is worth $45 million to put Jay back on the Tonight Show, and that would be a resounding No. Hopefully Conan gets picked up by Fox or another network and makes hay with a new show, crushing Leno in the ratings.

Posted by: esmerelda123 | January 21, 2010 10:10 AM

Conan is very talented but not worth $45 million. However, that is the appropriate penalty for NBC's mishandling of the situation, its callous treatment of both Conan and Jay, and its lack of foresight. Stupidity can be costly.

Posted by: gb2954 | January 21, 2010 10:28 AM

NO ONE THESE DAYS IS WORTH $45,000,000. The people that are worth that are dead: Martin Luther King, mother Theresa, Bobby Kennedy, Leonardo DaVinci, Rembrandt, Einstein...

Posted by: hickorydog | January 21, 2010 10:30 AM

As I just said --Bin Ladin has ONLY --$20 million on his head.

Posted by: peep1935 | January 21, 2010 10:31 AM

First of all, my understanding is that O'Brien will keep "only" $33 million of the severence payment, distributing the rest to his staff, so he gets points for being a mensch. Second, it's not a matter of what Conan O'Brien is worth as an entertainer. It's how much NBC should be penalized for breaching its long-term contractual obligation to O'Brien (an obligation that reportedly included a $30+ million buyout clause to begin with) and, by extension, the cast, crew, writers and other staff who uprooted their lives and families to relocate across country because of that commitment. $45 million is appropriate.

Posted by: lcva | January 21, 2010 10:32 AM

I watched the Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien twice, and it simply was not entertaining. How you get $45M out of that is beyond my understanding. How many Haitians would that help?

Posted by: gtinla | January 21, 2010 10:48 AM

Since people mentioned advertising rates, hopefully this will put that $45 million figure in perspective.

For The Tonight Show in 2008, the rate was $33.32 per 1000 viewers or $50,877 per 30 seconds or roughly $926,000 a night (TNS Media). The cost of this type of show is $350,000-$400,000 a night assuming you don't have too many Bugatti Veyron Mice (Hollywood Reporter). So if Leno gets those same numbers he got back then, NBC pays off Conan in perhaps 18 weeks or a little over 4 months.

The larger cost not mentioned is that it will cost NBC roughly $150 million per season or $300 million per year (TV Week) to produce new shows Monday thru Friday at the 10pm slot to replace The Jay Leno Show, which was expected to cost maybe half that. Where NBC also seemingly lost a nice chunk of change is in the upfront cost of creating the studios for Conan and Jay. Jay is currently in Studio 11, and his Tonight was in Studio 3, so I hope they kept the set or there is another cost. Conan was not in the Burbank studios.

On the other hand, NBC was hoping to save roughly $13 million per week for the time that Leno was on the air and probably made NBC an extra $100 million over the 4 month run because even though the ratings seemed poor, they actually exceeded NBCs original projections (NY Times). Of course, I have no idea if NBC had allocated that expected income already, but that is not a significant problem.

Translation: $45 million is not hurting NBC at all here. I think they still come out ahead financially through all this bad PR.

The real financial loss here is at the affiliate level. I would presume there must have been some gain by CBS and ABC affiliates too, but I have not really found much written on them.

Posted by: prokaryote | January 21, 2010 11:18 AM

As others have said, it's not a question of whether Conan's worth that--it's whether Leno's worth it.

Considering how poorly Leno's 10PM show did, I'd say no, Leno is not worth the $45 million payout. His poor ratings were so bad that local NBC affiliates were threatening to boycott his show, and run something else that would generate good lead-in numbers for the nightly news instead. He should have retired like he'd originally said he would, and NBC should have stuck with good shows at the 10PM slot to generate good numbers for the nightly news, which in turn would generate good numbers for The Tonight Show with Conan.

Posted by: dkp01 | January 21, 2010 11:29 AM

The questions should be "Is JAY LENO worth the $45 million NBC is paying to exit Conan O'Brien's contract?"

The answer is... probably not.

Posted by: BSDetector | January 21, 2010 11:58 AM

Leno was terrible at 10 pm. Conan makes me laugh, something Leno has never done. Leno agrees 5 yrs ago to let Conan take over the Tonight Show, then backs out when he realizes he's horrible at 10, screwing over Conan and the entire Tonight Show staff who moved cross-country for the opportunity to run the Tonight Show. Conan should take every penny he can get from NBC, move to another network, and take all the desirable demographics away from Leno. Old folks like Jay, and they're not the buyers of the future. Conan, please have Andy, Max, and LaBamba on your future show!

Posted by: carusocm | January 21, 2010 12:26 PM

No one is worth $30-40 million, but that's the nature of Show Biz (and Wall Street). But given the shabby way that Conan was treated by NBC, it's probably fair.

The real crime is that back-stabbing Jay Leno will continue to be laughing all the way to the bank. He's the one who should be paid off to Go Away.

Posted by: BethesdaDad | January 21, 2010 12:32 PM

Another thing to consider is that Leno's first few months were terrible, too. He only started beating Letterman in the ratings when he landed the Hugh Grant interview. Wherever Conan ends up after this, maybe he should try getting a major interview to boost his viewership. If he can't, maybe Max could put in a call to his other boss and they could schedule a wild musical show to kick things off.

Posted by: dkp01 | January 21, 2010 12:36 PM

Jodi Westrick: As others here have suggested, you have asked a stupid question.

In an important sense, Conan O'Brien is not worth $45 million; nor is a copy of the Washington Post worth $1. Yet some people are willing to pay these prices. Go figure.

I wish the Post would stop polling its users' opinions and get back to reporting important current events in an intelligent manner. Instead, the Post devalues factual knowledge and abandons its users to generate content all by themselves, through comment boards such as this one. I have nearly had enough.

As Graceld99 has done, you can probe the legal reasons why O'Brien will be compensated for NBC's apparent breach of contract. As Prokaryote has done, you can analyze why NBC would want to pay this price to make the situation go away. You can even ask (since Howie Kurtz lacks the guts to) why successful media companies such as NBC and the Post become worthless caricatures of themselves through their failed efforts to adapt to changing times. For some reason which I cannot support, you instead ask us how we feel.

Opinion-oriented 'journalism' is a curse on those who engage in it. And you won't make money at it anyway. Please stop.

Posted by: hungrypug | January 21, 2010 12:37 PM

Was he worth $32 million as a host or is he worth $32 million to get rid of?

Posted by: HardyW | January 21, 2010 12:39 PM

No entertainer is worth that much money nor sports player! All of them are overpaid including the so called A list actors and best sportsmen. It is totally ridiculous!

Posted by: shejoy | January 21, 2010 12:45 PM

This society continues to reward poor performance, Conan cuts the ratings in half and gets 45M. I can't believe that some people feel sorry for him because he had to move across country - wa wa wa. Didn't NBC have a clause about performance - obviously not.

Posted by: nasfar | January 21, 2010 1:04 PM

Conan make us puke,he is unfunny,and an embarrassment to NBC.Why they ever gave this moron a show is beyond belief,and that stupid dance he does before the monolog,causes us to switch channels.Good bye.and good ridence,and he should pay his staff, not NBC as he is responsible for their failure.

Posted by: rbwwalker | January 21, 2010 1:24 PM

The obvious answer to your poorly worded question is "He is now!" NBC honered their contract. What everyone else thinks is the wrong question especially since we don't know the revenue numbers. That less than 1% of the population have over 50% of the wealth in the US is a much better "problem" to contemplate.

Posted by: Blackbirdsinging | January 21, 2010 1:32 PM

$32.5 million for Conan O'Brien to go away strikes me as a bargain.

Posted by: Ralphinjersey | January 21, 2010 1:43 PM

Maybe my eyes are going, but the poll states it is $32.5M, not $45M.

Nonetheless, Gracel in the first post has it right: the question has little to do with worth and how much NBC screwed someone(s) over.

To that end, yes: NBC made a contract with O'Brien, and now they're weaseling their way out of it b/c Leno can't pull in the viewers to bridge the gap between his show and O'Brien's.

And when you breach a contract, you pay. O'Brien has every right to make them pay through the nose and anyone in his position would do the same.

All this complaining about how we waste money on entertainers is ridiculous; it's NBC who's paying, not the taxpayer - we just happen to be able to watch a business deal fall apart publicly.

Posted by: nagatuki | January 21, 2010 1:45 PM

Nagatuki, the poll question says $32.5 million because they changed the wording after the discussion started going. Originally, it said $45 million; the reason is that out of the total $45M, Conan's keeping $33M and the remainder is going to his show's staff.

Posted by: dkp01 | January 21, 2010 2:29 PM

Apparently, TEA PARTY REVOLT was boycotting Obrien for his affiliation with RAHM and Obama.

He should fire his handler and get back to trashing the politicians.
Obrien can steer a new course in touch with the people who are filled with Obama jokes.
NBC was right to satisfy the majority.

Posted by: dottydo | January 21, 2010 6:01 PM

Apparently, TEA PARTY REVOLT was boycotting Obrien for his affiliation with RAHM and Obama.

He should fire his handler and get back to trashing the politicians.
Obrien can steer a new course in touch with the people who are filled with Obama jokes.
NBC was right to satisfy the majority.

Posted by: dottydo | January 21, 2010 6:03 PM

Definitely too much to pay someone to leave. The television field has/is laying off tv technicians throughout the DC area as the work in television becomes more automated. This guy purposely chose to leave & has, therefore, put his staff out of work too. I'm sure the staff didn't care what time they aired the show as long as they had a job. When they change the time and/or day of other network broadcast shows, the stars don't make a plea to the universe & stomp off when they don't get their way. He may be smart but he's also very spoiled. Not many people would ruin an expensive car out of spite and then laugh as Conan did the other night. I'm hoping George Clooney saw that brat attack & asks Conan to donate a like amount for the Haitians. It would be one selfless act on his part in this debacle.

Posted by: pe42day | January 21, 2010 7:23 PM

Conan is brilliant and worth every penny he gets for being so blatantly betrayed by NBC.

That Conan has more respect for great legacy of The Tonight Show by refusing to move it to 12:05 am, while Leno was fine with the idea of such a heretic time slot move, speaks incredibly well of O'Brien and makes Leno look greedy and opportunistic.

I hope Conan's given the 11:35 pm time slot by another network and gives NBC and Leno a ratings drubbing.

More power to you, Conan. I look forward to your return to television.

Posted by: binkynh | January 21, 2010 8:22 PM

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