Larry Zerner Talks Conan/Leno Debacle

LarryZernerHSSince Larry is in the entertainment law business, he was interviewed by the Legal tabloid website, Above The Law, about the legal ramifications of the Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno fallout. I think the topic is interesting and also am happy to see Larry recognized as someone with real input into such a hot button topic. Check out his interview below.

LA-based entertainment lawyer Larry Zerner represents actors, writers, and producers. He crushes the hopes of those who hoped this might lead to a boom for the field, though he does have reassuring news for those who love Triumph the Insult Comic Dog:

The recent late-night fiasco should not have any real impact on talent contracts for the majority of performers for a number of reasons. First, it is very unlikely that another network will make as many bad decisions as NBC made. The decision five years ago to replace Jay with Conan now seems like a huge mistake, the choice to move Jay to 10:00 proved to be a disaster, and the attempted fix to put Jay on for 1/2 hour at 11:35 backfired horribly, resulting in the loss of Conan and seriously damaging Jay’s likability factor. Second, from my understanding of the issues (and, of course, I haven’t actually seen Jay or Conan’s contract), the real bone of contention was whether NBC would be in breach of the agreement with Conan if they moved the Tonight Show to 12:05. Conan’s contract to host The Tonight Show apparently didn’t specifically state he would be on at 11:35 (something Letterman had in his contract), so issues were raised as to whether his show could still be considered The Tonight Show if it was moved. This is just not an issue that will keep other studios up at night, although future negotiations for late night hosts will certainly include specific language as to the time the show will air.


With regard to whether Conan can take some of the characters and sketches with him to his new job, it is almost certain that the contract with Conan and his writers had a work-for-hire provision and an assignment of all copyrights to NBC. The same thing happened to David Letterman when he left NBC for CBS, which is why Larry “Bud” Melman could not appear on Late Night, but the actor who played him (Calvert DeForest, Jr.) could. Therefore, the only way that Conan would be able to continue to use those characters would be if NBC agreed (perhaps in exchange for Conan’s promise not to bash NBC on his new show).

However, it appears a little unclear as to the ownership of what is probably the most popular character to come out of Conan’s show, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, who was created by long time SNL writer Robert Smigel. Although Triumph started on Conan, he has appeared on a number of non-NBC shows, and there is certainly reason to believe that Mr. Smigel created Triumph on his own, and not under his duties as a writer employed by NBC. If that’s the case, then Mr. Smigel would be free to take Triumph anywhere without NBC’s interference. An interesting clue to the ownership of Triumph is that the official website for Triumph (, is owned by Warner Records, which put out the Triumph CD. This would seem to indicate that NBC is not Triumph’s owner, leaving Triumph free to poop on NBC as soon as Conan gets settled elsewhere.

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10 Responses to “ Larry Zerner Talks Conan/Leno Debacle ”

  1. Conan is the man…to hell with NBC and Jay “unfunny” Leno.

  2. I can’t even tell ya the last time I actually watched any of these guys on television.

  3. Conan used to be the shite when he first started waaaaaay back, but he has lost his touch. Nice to see Jay back.

  4. I’m with Coco..

  5. Can’t stand Jay, his attitude or his chin – whodathunk someone could out-chin Bruce Campbell?

    Conan all the way.

  6. Jay Leno is great show!…. For me to POOP on! -Triumph

  7. Conan rocks, to hell with NBC.


  9. I like Jay Leno, but I don’t like what he been doing lately. But then, maybe he want to step down but NBC pressured him to stay. I blame NBC more for this situation than Leno. I hope whatever Conan find a new home at, it will hurt NBC big time & they’ll suffer from that.

  10. I’m a big Conan O’Brien fan and last night’s show was heartbreaking. This drama felt like some resolution would’ve come at the eleventh hour to keep him on the Tonight Show, but alas I’ve watched too many movies to think this could have happened…

    I’m anxious to see Conan again on whatever network is lucky enough to land him.

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