NBC: Conan O'Brien reaches $45M exit deal

By Frazier Moore/The Associated Press

NEW YORK — NBC said Thursday it has reached a $45 million deal with Conan O’Brien for his exit from the “Tonight” show, allowing Jay Leno to return to the late-night program he hosted for 17 years.

Under the deal, which came seven months after O’Brien took the reins from Leno, O’Brien will get more than $33 million, NBC said. The rest will go to his staff in severance, the network said in an announcement on the “Today” show.

His final show will be Friday, and Leno will return to “Tonight” on March 1.

O’Brien will be free to begin another TV job as soon as September, NBC said.

O’Brien landed the “Tonight” show after successfully hosting “Late Night,” which airs an hour later, since 1993. But he quickly stumbled in the ratings race against his CBS rival, David Letterman.

Under Leno, the “Tonight” show was the ratings champ at 11:35 p.m. Eastern, but he proved an instant flop with his experiment in prime time.