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Conan O'Brien Reaches Deal To Leave 'The Tonight Show'

"Conan O'Brien has signed a deal with NBC to exit The Tonight Show, making way for rival Jay Leno to reclaim the time slot," MSNBC just reported.

It should know, of course, because MSNBC is a joint venture of NBC Universal and Microsoft. The report says NBC has confirmed the much-anticipated news.

As the Associated Press wrote earlier this morning:

Conan O'Brien all but posted a farewell banner on this week's Tonight shows as his exit negotiations with NBC neared their conclusion Wednesday.

In the late-night tradition of a star-studded goodbye, O'Brien's guests Thursday include such big names as Robin Williams and Barry Manilow. Tom Hanks was scheduled for Friday, as was Will Ferrell — the first guest O'Brien welcomed when he started last June as Tonight host.

And Conan himself all-but announced the news last night. "Let's face facts, we probably don't have much time left here on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien," he said. (Sorry, there's a bit-with-a-bear that's a bit to "adult" for us to be able to post his video. He's posted it here.)

Our blogging buddy Linda Holmes at Monkey See has been following the Leno-O'Brien-NBC turmoil.

Update at 8 a.m. ET: MSNBC now says the package O'Brien has negotiated totals $45 million — $33 million for him and $12 million for his staff (earlier, AP put the value at $44 million).

Update at 7:20 a.m. ET. The Associated Press writes that:

NBC says it has reached a deal with Tonight host Conan O'Brien for his exit from the show, allowing Jay Leno to return to the late-night program he hosted for 17 years. The deal is worth a reported $44 million.

Network spokeswoman Allison Gollust confirmed the deal early Thursday but did not offer any other details. Earlier, The Wall Street Journal reported that O'Brien will get $32 million and that the network agreed to pay his staff $12 million in severance.

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