As the world watched the biggest break-up since (possibly) Brad and Angelina unfold in slow-motion this month, it would be reasonable to think that the blood between late-night host Conan O'Brien and NBC would be as bad as it gets. The network paid him and his staff nearly $45 million to walk away and allow Jay Leno to re-assume the reins at The Tonight Show.
O'Brien had been expecting to succeed Leno as the late-night king for nearly six years, and he was pulled from the show's traditional 11:35 p.m. time slot after seven months at the helm. Fans called for NBC chief Jeff Zucker's head, and the riff exposed a generational divide in late night not seen since the dawn of Saturday Night Live (younger viewers like O'Brien, elders prefer Leno and David Letterman). NBC got a real black eye over the whole ordeal, especially from those youthful "I'm With Coco" fans, many of whom vowed to walk away from the network too. So what's NBC to do? Buy a show from O'Brien, of course.
Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood website today reports that NBC has picked up a pilot, called Justice, from O'Brien's production company, Conaco. It's about an ex-Supreme Court justice who starts his own law firm. And while you might speculate that the pick-up was part of the fine print in O'Brien's exit check, Finke says that's not so: "Conan and company were shocked," she writes.
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Much has been made of a 1980s college beef between O'Brien and Zucker, in which Zucker had the budding comedian arrested for allegedly stealing all the copies of the Zucker-run Havard student newspaper as a prank. We think the notion of a 25-year beef being behind O'Brien's exit is wrongheaded, though: As the news above confirms, it's all about cold, hard business.