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It's Over: Conan Officially Out, Jay Back In at Tonight

Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien NBC Photo: Mitchell Haaseth

Conan O'Brien's Tonight Show is officially yesterday's news.

After weeks of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, public insult swapping and some of the sharpest hours of late-night in the medium's history, NBC has officially parted ways with Team CoCo, reinserting Jay Leno as host of The Tonight Show.

O'Brien will bid the gig adieu tomorrow night, and Leno will return to captain the late-night talker on March 1.

"NBC and Conan O'Brien have reached a resolution of the issues surrouding O'Brien's contract to host The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien," the network and host said in a joint statement.

"Under terms of an agreement that was signed earlier today, NBC and O'Brien will settle their contractual obligations and the network will release O'Brien from his contract, freeing him to pursue other opportunities after Sept. 1, 2010."

O'Brien's departure, however, is not without its recompense. His severance deal is said to be worth roughly $45 million, and will include a $33 million payout both for NBC's breach of his contract and 12 million thanks-for-playing bucks for his most senior staff members.

"In the end, Conan was appreciative of the steps NBC made to take care of his staff and crew, and decided to supplement the severance they were getting out of his own pocket," O'Brien's manager, Gavin Polone, told the Wall Street Journal. "Now he just wants to get back on the air as quickly as possible."

Judging by the support—and ratings boost—he's enjoyed this week, he's not the only one.

But of course the bruised brass over at NBC couldn't leave Leno out of the press release bonanza.

"We're pleased that Jay is returning to host the franchise that he helmed brilliantly and successfully for many years," the chairman of NBC Universal Entertainment, Jeff Gaspin, said. "He is an enormous talent, a consummate professional and one of the hardest-working performers on television."

(Originally published Jan. 21. 2009, at 5:23 a.m. PT)

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