Conan Prepares for Last 'Tonight Show' Jokes

O'Brien is happy with the severance package but is also supplementing staff severance out of his own pocket with a seven-figure sum, manager Polone said Thursday.

Polone said O'Brien wants to return to the air as soon as possible.

"He's doing so well right now it'd be horrible to lose that momentum," he said. "The numbers are so high and its clearly not just about the controversy."

O'Brien, he said, would want to establish a show similar to the "Tonight Show."

Conan Takes on NBC

Leno and O'Brien have both taken shots at NBC and, in some cases, at each other since NBC announced its late-night shuffle. But it has been O'Brien's bitterly comic jabs at the peacock network -- Tuesday night, O'Brien went bilingual in his attacks, saying in Spanish that "NBC is run by brainless sons of goats who eat money and crap trouble" -- that seem to have driven his ratings higher and encouraged passionate fans, including hundreds who held rallies in four U.S. cities earlier this week in support of the host many refer to by the nickname "CoCo."

NBC Universal president and CEO Jeff Zucker defended the network's decision to shift Leno back into the 11:35 p.m. time slot he held for 17 years before O'Brien took over "The Tonight Show."

"From a financial standpoint, this is the right move," Zucker said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal earlier this week. "We didn't want to do it, because we wanted to keep Conan. But we're going to be fine, even paying Conan to go away."

He told the newspaper he was surprised at the "nasty" turn the shake-up had taken.

"We were not surprised that Conan was disappointed in having his show back up a half hour. But we were very surprised and disappointed at how nasty it turned," he said.

Many "Tonight Show" employees lived in New York and worked for O'Brien's former show before moving to California to work on "The Tonight Show."

"The main issue at this stage is how well they're planning on taking care of the people who are out of work, and that's Conan's main concern and that's the focus of all negotiations at this point," Polone told Tuesday.

But NBC criticized Polone's portrayal of the negotiations, calling it a "PR ploy" and arguing that O'Brien's decisions, not NBC's, will leave his staff jobless.

"It was Conan's decision to leave NBC that resulted in nearly 200 of his staffers being out of work," the network said Tuesday in a written statement. "We have already agreed to pay millions of dollars to compensate every one of them. This latest posturing is nothing more than a PR ploy."

Leno explained his side of the story on his show Monday night.

The former, and now future, "Tonight Show" host said he had tried to avoid doing a show in prime time but was convinced by NBC that it could work and that he would be able to keep his staff of 175.

Four months later, he said, network executives informed him they were canceling his show but told him they wouldn't let him out of his contract because he was still "a valuable asset" to the company.

He said he agreed to host his show at 11:35 p.m. after NBC "almost guaranteed" to him that O'Brien would accept a "Tonight Show" shift to 12:05 a.m.

O'Brien said Tuesday that hosting the "Tonight Show" was a dream of his since he was a child.

"When I was a little boy, I remember watching The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson and thinking, 'Someday, I'm going to host that show for seven months,'" he joked.

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