So NBC’s “The Tonight Show” clusterfuck has finally come to an end and, as expected, this Friday will be Conan O’Brien’s last night hosting the show. According to The Live Feed, “details about a settlement are still fuzzy, but sources estimated that the payoff to O’Brien could reach $40 million.” (You know, for forty mil, I think I’d be OK with my boss publicly humiliating me and ruining my dream job). In addition to a nice hunka-chunka change, NBC is expected to kill any non-competition or exclusivity requirements in Conan’s contract (nevermind the fact that post employment non-compete clauses aren’t enforceable under California law), freeing Conan up to host a show on Fox or some other network, although I wouldn’t expect to see Conan return for at least six months, at the earliest.
A lot of the stories are focusing on the fact that, while Conan gets to go, his bits don’t. The Masturbating Bear, “In the Year 3000,” Pimpbot, etc. are all NBC’s intellectual property and stick with “The Tonight Show.” (I have no desire to watch “The Tonight Show” when Jay’s back in charge, but I would tune in and pay $40 million to see him mauled to death by the Masturbating Bear). This is not a surprise, both because this is simply the way things are done, and because Letterman dealt with the same thing when he fled the Peacock after it pea-cocked him. The one question mark here appears to be Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, created, puppeted, and voiced by Robert Smigel. The Live Feed says that Smigel’s reps wouldn’t comment on who owns the rights. On the one hand, it would seem that NBC may not own the exclusive rights, because we’ve consistently seen Smigel use Triumph on other networks and in other venues and NBC has presumably never complained. On the other hand, it seems unlikely that Smigel got some sort of exemption when creating Triumph. So who knows. (My unfounded prognostication is that, if NBC owns Triumph, Conan will give up a little cash in the deal to buy the right to take Triumph with him).
The loss of Triumph from Conan’s repertoire would be a bummer. However, I think the loss of all the rest could turn out to be a boon. Earlier this week, Dustin wrote about Jimmy Fallon trying to bring a fresh take on the late night TV show. Now I enjoy Conan and still think he’s funny. But I don’t quite have the same love for him, or feel the same joy in watching his show, as I did his first few years. On a new network, in a new venue, without any of his old crutches, maybe Conan will slide a little more towards those early years, since he’ll essentially be starting over and forced to reinvent his show.
And if that doesn’t work out for him, Kurt Sutter has issued an open invitation to the exiled host. Sutter, as you may know, is the creator of and showrunner behind “Sons of Anarchy.” Thursday, he posted a letter to Conan on his blog:
I have no doubt you’ll land on your feet, wavy red hair intact. I know appearing in a dramatic role on cable television is probably the last thing you’d ever want to do, but I want you to know that you have an open invitation on my show, Sons of Anarchy. We have an IRA story line that will continue to play out this coming season and I could use a bad-ass O’Brien on my team. Guns, blood, fist fights — you could really work some shit out. Think about it.
See, now here’s where the idea of NBC keeping Conan’s schticks sucks. Because Conan on “Sons” would be good. But Conan with the Pimpbot as his enforcer? That would be fucking great. …Stupid NBC.