While Conan O'Brien definitely feels that NBC has treated him very unfairly, the fact of the matter was that his version of THE TONIGHT SHOW was a money loser. NBC had calculated that for the calendar year of 2010, the show would lose the network around $3-5 million. That compares very badly against the $25 million in profits THE TONIGHT SHOW made the last full calendar year that Leno hosted the show. For NBC, giving Conan O'Brien the ax was probably a serious economic issue towards stopping network revenue losses. Surprisingly, as bad as the ratings were for the 10pm prime-time version of THE JAY LENO SHOW, that show was able to show a slender profit. Compared to the ultra-expensive 10pm dramas of other networks like CBS and ABC, THE TONIGHT SHOW was produced on a shoestring, yet drew in high priced ads. Economically it made sense. But it wasn't as good of a revenue source as a good 10pm drama like an ER by any means.
Conan O'Brien feels that the poor lead-in from Jay Leno's very weak ratings as well as only having just seven months to have success in THE TONIGHT SHOW time slot just wasn't enough time to be successful. Yet, the fact of the matter is that he lost 52% of THE TONIGHT SHOW audience ratings numbers.
Conan O'Brien certainly leaves NBC with a lot of anger right now. But his show just didn't perform very well. And THE TONIGHT SHOW really needed to be a profitable enterprise for NBC which is in a serious financial funk right now. NBC did offer Conan the opportunity to do his show after midnight which would have kept all of the jobs of his writers, staffers and fellow actors. But O'Brien made the decision to leave on his own because he felt that NBC was pressuring him, which of course they were. NBC is in the business of making money, and not losing it.
O'Brien's future looks pretty hazy right now. It appears that FOX hasn't actually contacted him about a new hosting job. And further, NBC is attempting to put language in a contract that will cost Conan O'Brien mega-amounts of cash if he "bad mouths" NBC. This sort of gag rule has to be difficult for the Conan O'Brien camp to accept. What Comic can't tell jokes about certain subjects?
In the end, Conan will see some money from NBC. Will have to live with a probable gag order clause, and might even be restricted for how long before he can work again. And the fact of the matter is that all of the writers and staffers who bought homes in California are without work from Conan's show now, and laying in economic ruin because Conan wouldn't accept doing the show past midnight. And that's a heavy burden to bear. However, it seemed like an empty gesture from NBC to offer Jay Leno a half hour time slot at 11:35. Normally, Leno's joke monologue can run that long. It was likely an NBC ploy to force Conan's hand to quit rather than merely cancel him.
Regardless, the amazing climb of Conan O'Brien may be over for the near future.