NBC shoots back at Conan O'Brien

By Ben Rooney, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- NBC fired back at Conan O'Brien Wednesday as negotiations between the outgoing host of "The Tonight Show" and the network stalled over how much O'Brien's staff would be paid under a potential severance deal.

"It was Conan's decision to leave NBC that resulted in nearly 200 of his staffers being out of work," a network representative said in an e-mailed statement. "We have already agreed to pay millions of dollars to compensate every one of them."

O'Brien is reportedly close to signing a $40 million deal to walk away from "The Tonight Show," which he has hosted since June. The network tried to push the show to a later time slot.

But talks have been held up by disagreements over, among other things, how much the show's staff is entitled to as well.

Gavin Polone, O'Brien's manager, told the New York Times that some wrangling over staff compensation was to be expected given the dismal job market. But, he added, "We're fighting to do better for them."

The weeks-long dispute has roiled the entertainment industry and galvanized fans of the show, who held rallies in cities across the nation Tuesday in support of O'Brien.

According to NBC, O'Brien raised compensation issues a few days ago, and it is only one of many points still being negotiated.

"This latest posturing is nothing more than a PR ploy," the NBC representative said.

The rebuke comes one day after O'Brien took the network to task during his nightly monologue, saying "NBC is headed downhill faster than a fat guy chasing a runaway cheese-wheel."

O'Brien is widely expected to cede the show later this week. "I'm just three days away from the biggest drinking binge in history," he said Tuesday night.  To top of page

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