For the past week or so I’ve seen headlines and blurbs and was vaguely aware that something was going on over at NBC that had to do with some kind of rivalry between Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien (who has apparently been hosting the Tonight Show? I thought that was Carson or maybe Letterman, which shows you just how qualified I am to write an article about late night TV). Finally I broke down and asked a friend what all the hubbub was about, after I started seeing names like Gibson Dunn attached to the stories.
So for the other three people in the western hemisphere who are unfamiliar with the backstory, here goes. Conan has been hosting The Tonight Show and Jay Leno had his own prime time show. Leno’s show got axed and NBC wanted to put him in at 11:35 pm, the time slot for The Tonight Show. Conan’s contract stipulated that he would host The Tonight Show, so NBC tried to move the show to 12:01 AM. Enter the lawyers…
First there’s the draftsmen. Entertainment contracts are a specialized field and unsurprisingly there are a number of entertainment law boutiques in the Los Angeles area to choose from. Conan’s contract was done up by Leigh Brecheen of the firm Bloom Hergott Diemer Rosenthal LaViolette Feldman & Goodman. Yup, seven named partners there, but that’s show business for you, everyone wants their name in lights. Perhaps the difficulty of typing that name into a web browser would explain the lack of a firm web page, but lawyers.com does have this listing for them. Leno’s contract was done up by the man whose parents knew when they named him that their son would be an entertainment lawyer, Skip Brittenham. Skip is a named partner at Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca, Fischer, Gilbert-Lurie, Stiffelman, Cook, Johnson, Lande & Wolf. For those counting, that’s 10 named partners. Imagine being the partner at the firm that doesn’t get your name on the door. In fact, the Wall Street Journal has named it the world’s longest law firm name. This firm is so exclusive, they don’t even get a listing on lawyers.com, let alone a web page, even though they’ve shortened their name to Ziffren Brittenham.
After joking on the show that he just rode the newest ride at Universal Studios, the Tunnel of Litigation, Conan turned to Patricia Glaser of Glaser Weil (whose full name only lists six named partners) to keep him out of litigation. Instead, it appears that Glaser has managed to negotiate a $40 million severance package for Conan. Included in the deal is a mutual non-disparagement clause and an agreement not to host a show on a rival network for six months. NBC is represented in the negotiations by Gibson Dunn.
I’m told that faithful fans of the show are fretting over the fate of a character named Triumph the Insult Dog. It’s not clear yet who owns the character. Triumph was created by SNL writer Robert Smigel and because the dog has shown up on non NBC shows and because Warner Records put out the Triumph CD and owns the website, it’s likely that NBC does not have the rights to the character. But if it should come down to litigation, I’m comfortable in predicting that the firms representing both parties will have at least 16 named partners between them. Welcome to Hollywood!