Read On: A big paycheck to do nothing

So I read someplace that it’s a new year — 2014, is it? — and for those of us in Burbank, it can mean only one thing: We are mere weeks away from NBC’s “Tonight Show” departing Burbank after a nearly 42-year run here.

Jay Leno’s final “Tonight” here will be Feb. 6. Jimmy Fallon’s first “Tonight” in New York will be Feb. 17, right smack in the middle of NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics. By all accounts, this transition is far more orderly and less acrimonious than the last time NBC tried one of these little changeovers in 2010.

Remember that one? Shoot, how could you forget? Conan O’Brien took over for Leno, but NBC kept Leno around as a kind of insurance policy, having him host a disastrous prime-time lead-in to “Tonight.” Soon enough, Conan was imploding and NBC was floating contingencies, asking through the press if O’Brien might be interested in moving “Tonight” to 12:05 a.m. (News flash: He wasn’t.)

In order to allow for Leno to return to his longtime home and give Conan the boot, it cost NBC a cool $33 million. Actually, that was just the money it paid O’Brien. Another $12 million went collectively to the staff.

Conan would go on to find success and stability at TBS. But think about that. Imagine someone wanting you gone so badly that they’re willing to fork over $45 million just to get your ugly face away from them. Where do I sign up for that deal? Heck, I’d probably accept half of that for the promise that I’d never, ever try to host the “Tonight Show.” I’m guessing most of you would be good with that, too.

Compared with the gigantic payout last time, NBC is getting off relatively easy in the Leno-to-Fallon switch. It has to pay off Leno $15 million to account for his contract that runs through September, along with untold millions more for the staff.

Burbank will survive this, of course. It has survived worse. It made it through Johnny Carson’s departure, for starters. But it’s interesting to note that — as was the case back in ’10 — Leno is still No. 1 in the ratings.

It’s rare that you’d pay so much money just to get rid of someone still arguably operating at the top of his game. The rationale is that the old people who follow Leno aren’t as valuable to advertisers.

Yet with the understanding that I, too, am still operating at a high level, I would like to propose the following payoffs for my lack of services:

- $7 million to never host the Academy Awards. This is a huge bargain, as we can only imagine how massively the show’s ratings would tank with me at the controls.

- $18 million to never be installed as a creative executive at Apple. My taste would run toward the iCheese, the iDog and the iBasketball. Probably not anything for which the public might be clamoring. It’s worth at least that much dough to keep me as far away from decision-making as possible.

- $4.5 million to never marry into the Royal Family. Trust me, it’s a bargain.

- $16 million to never make a pitch on “Shark Tank,” since it would involve something horribly embarrassing like a business centered on disposable women’s pantyhose or a dog leash that doubles as a dessert topping.

- $9.2 million to never run for public office. I would resort to schoolyard name-calling of my opponent within days, if not hours, and humiliate everyone who ever supported my candidacy. Far better simply to avoid going down that road entirely.

- $23 million to never sing on any stage ever. My few token attempts at “Happy Birthday” that resulted in the deaths of neighboring wildlife make this a no-brainer.

- $6 million to never become a religious figure. Whatever faith I was representing would be brought down in milliseconds.

Of course, it also goes without saying that I will also never toss my hat into the ring to host “Tonight.” The number of millions that’s worth to the network has to be incalculable. Just sayin’.


RAY RICHMOND has covered Hollywood and the entertainment business since 1984. He can be reached via email at and Twitter at @MeGoodWriter

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