Conan’s Counsel Erred… But How Badly?

A number of commentators, including Business Insider, have cast aspersions upon Conan O’Brien’s legal counsel in the wake of assertions that O’Brien’s “Tonight Show” contract does not specify the time slot at which the “Tonight Show” must appear. If true, this omission would considerably weaken O’Brien’s negotiating position as he fights NBC’s efforts to bump him from the “Tonight Show”’s long-standing 11:35 PM time slot (the Daily Beast claims Conan’s departure from NBC is a done deal but as of late Thursday night other sources have not confirmed). Gawker lays the blame at the feet of O’Brien’s agent Ari Emanuel, claiming a few quality hours with a popular 1990s TV industry tell-all would have clued Emanuel in to potential time slot treachery by NBC.

Admittedly, it is the job of deal counsel to foresee and avoid problems such as these and to prevent clients from incurring the costs of resolving them. But is Conan really up the creek on the time slot issue?

Matthew Belloni of the Hollywood Reporter’s legal blog, THR, Esq., argues in “The Legal Case for Conan” that it’s too soon to tell, and that outsiders don’t have the information necessary to speculate. Not only is the deal itself quite complex, he notes, nothing precludes Conan from making the obvious argument that an 11:30ish time slot was a material term of Conan’s contract, regardless of whether it was written into the contract, because everyone in the United States, let alone the television industry, knows the “Tonight Show” comes on right after the local news.

Belloni follows up with “The Legal Case for NBC,” in which he lays out NBC’s strongest legal argument: TV talent almost never gets a say in when shows air, something Aaron Sorkin learned the hard way when NBC chose to air most of the solitary season of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” at please-make-this-show-go-away-o’clock.

This entry was posted by Richard on Friday, January 15th, 2010 at 8:00 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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