I saw this on the AP wire this morning but decided to wait a little while to post something, mostly because I don't care about this anymore. But if you do care, well, the deal is done. NBC is going to pay Conan O'Brien $44 million ($12m of that for his staff) to walk across the street and start making money for another network, just like they did with Letterman (only they didn't pay him to do it, they merely let it happen on its own).
That's really all there is to the story anymore. Jeff Zucker's goons from around NBC-U have been smearing O'Brien for the failure of The Tonight Show without taking any responsibility for basically forcing that to happen in the first place, without noting that Leno was flailing in his first 17 months until a producer was brought in to revamp the show (O'Brien was given less than half that amount of time), and without admitting the obvious problem that NBC now faces: The Tonight Show isn't the gold.
I realized this while watching The Today Show yesterday morning (I had a lot of time to think about it, with no fewer than 5 segments dedicated to Al Roker standing on a muddly hill talking about mudslides or something, or with the long segment on Tiger Woods' penis and what he's doing with it today -- how exciting!).
It didn't hurt the show when Katie Couric left. When Matt Lauer retires, it won't kill the show either. That's because the show is the gold, not its hosts. But it's clear that The Tonight Show has always lived and died with the host. Leno may bring back some viewers, but all that does is kick the problem downfield. Leno isn't going to host the show forever, so in 5-10 years when he retires on his own, NBC will be stuck with a loser (the show) while O'Brien goes somewhere else to rebuild his brand that NBC badly damaged.
This mess isn't even close to being over, either. When Leno comes back there's no guarantee he'll bring the ratings back up. Seven months from now we may (and probably already should) see heads rolling at NBC.