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Wrangling over compensation for Conan O'Brien's "Tonight Show" staff heats up

January 19, 2010 |  6:29 pm

Maybe Conan O'Brien won't be leaving NBC as soon as we thought.

Gavinpolone Negotiations over his severance package have become bogged down over O'Brien's demands that NBC also compensate staff members on his show who will soon be out of work. About 190 people work on "The Tonight Show," including about 60 to 70 employees who moved to Los Angeles from New York early last year. NBC paid to relocate about 40 to 50 of those people, with the rest coming to L.A. on their own.

"We are fighting hard to get as much as possible to these people who are going to be out of work," Gavin Polone, O'Brien's manager, said in a e-mail this afternoon.

NBC is sensitive to the fact that its late-night shuffle will put people out of jobs and bristled over  suggestions that the network, owned by General Electric Co., was being insensitive to the plight of employees who will join the masses of unemployed workers in the midst of a recession that has hammered the entertainment industry.

"It was Conan's decision to leave NBC that resulted in nearly 200 of his staffers being out of work. 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," NBC said in a statement.

Not so, said Polone. "It is not a ploy or a strategy. Conan's first priority is and always has been to take care of the employees of the show. He paid them out of his own pocket during the strike when NBC laid them off. I think that shows his commitment better than a missive from an unnamed NBC executive."

NBC is expected to spend more than $40 million in severance packages to the show's workers. O'Brien's share of that amount is about $30 million, according to people close to the negotiations.

-- Meg James

Photo of Gavin Polone (2004) by Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times