Conan O'Brien's exit deal pushed again

Settlement held up over staff's severence protection

It seems like Conan O'Brien will be officially under contract with NBC almost until his last "Tonight Show" on Friday.

In what has become a daily game of "Are We There Yet?," the final signoff on O'Brien's exit settlement with the network on Wednesday was pushed yet again, this time (almost) absolutely, positively, to Thursday.

The fine print in question continues to be severance protection for the "Tonight" staff.

Meanwhile, the imminent departure agrees very well with O'Brien. The pressure to adapt his quirky persona to the broader "Tonight" and to improve the show's ratings is gone. He is fearless, his jokes are sharper, and his ratings are through the roof.

In the local market overnights for Tuesday night, he scored a 1.9 rating in adults 18-49, crushing CBS' "Late Show With David Letterman" (0.7)

And in his opening monologue Wednesday night, he lobbed such zingers as "I should have known something was up when NBC sent me that 2010 calendar that only went up to January."

Talk about a great audition for the young-skewing Fox, whose brass are getting higher and higher on launching an O'Brien-fronted daily talk show in the fall.

It looks like they could finally open formal talks on Thursday.
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