Thursday, January 21, 2010

360 Entertainment

Signs Point To Friday Farewell For Conan

Conan O'Brien all but posted a farewell banner on this week's "Tonight" shows as his exit negotiations with NBC neared their conclusion Wednesday.

In the late-night tradition of a star-studded goodbye, O'Brien's guests Thursday include such big names as Robin Williams and Barry Manilow. Tom Hanks was scheduled for Friday, as was Will Ferrell -- the first guest O'Brien welcomed when he started last June as "Tonight" host.

And then there was this joke from his monologue Tuesday: "Hi, I'm Conan O'Brien, and I'm just three days away from the biggest drinking binge in history."

It was yet another indication that he's bracing for the bitter end of his brief tenure at "Tonight," less than eight months after taking over as host from Jay Leno. The show previously had been scheduled for reruns next week.

The red-headed comedian was negotiating with NBC for a severance package of more than $30 million, which would clear the way for Leno to return to late night. The proposed deal would allow O'Brien to work at another network as soon as this fall.

The announcement of an agreement was possible Thursday as the sides worked to resolve the final hurdle: compensation for O'Brien's staff and crew of about 200 people.

O'Brien was said to be "dug in" on the issue out of concern for the workers, while NBC said this week that it had already agreed to pay "millions of dollars to compensate every one of them" and deemed it a public relations "ploy."

Meanwhile, the comedy assault on NBC continued on "The Jay Leno Show."

Referring to the stormy California weather Wednesday, Leno said, "this rain couldn't have come at a worse possible time. Today was the day NBC was supposed to burn down the studio for the insurance money."

NBC's effort to keep both O'Brien and Leno at the network ran aground when Leno's experimental prime-show show drew poor ratings and affiliate complaints that forced its cancellation. When NBC proposed moving Leno back to 11:35 p.m. EST with a half-hour show, O'Brien refused to host "Tonight" at 12:05 a.m.

O'Brien, after posting lackluster numbers, has seen his viewership jump in recent days. His Monday night Nielsen Co. rating was up more than 60 percent in total viewers over the previous fourth quarter average and up about 80 percent among advertiser-favored young adults.

Fox executives have expressed admiration for O'Brien but said they couldn't discuss opportunities with him while he's under contract to NBC.

O'Brien's recent "Tonight" monologues have been notable for a barrage of jokes at the expense of NBC and Leno ("I just want to say to the kids out there watching: You can do anything you want in life, unless Jay Leno wants to do it, too," was one crack).

His final shows may be far less celebratory than those of his long-serving predecessors but, like them, he'll have top-notch company.

Johnny Carson's final guests, after 30 years at "Tonight," were Williams and Bette Midler, who appeared on his second-to-last broadcast. Carson hosted his final show in 1992 without guests.

When Leno left "Tonight" last May after 17 years, his final week of shows included Mel Gibson, Prince and Billy Crystal. Leno's final guest on his last show was his then-successor, O'Brien.

UPDATE: 4:00 PM Eastern -

Conan O'Brien told NBC good riddance Thursday in a $45 million deal for his exit from "The Tonight Show," allowing Jay Leno to return to the late-night program he hosted for 17 years.

Under the deal, which came less than eight months after O'Brien took the reins from Leno, O'Brien will get more than $33 million, NBC said. The rest will go to his 200-strong staff in severance.

Brittany's Mom, Husband Say Drugs Didn't Kill Her

A month after Brittany Murphy's mysterious death, her mother and husband say they are convinced the actress died of natural causes, not drugs or an eating disorder.

In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Sharon Murphy and Simon Monjack said that Murphy did not use drugs or alcohol and that they are awaiting a determination from coroner's officials that will end speculation prescription medicine caused Murphy's death on Dec. 20 at age 32.

Monjack said some of the prescription medications found in the couple's Hollywood Hills home belonged to him.

Murphy had mitral valve prolapse, a common condition where a heart valve does not properly close, but doctors said the actress "would live a long and healthy life," Monjack said.

"She had a fear of dying," Sharon Murphy said. "She would not take too much caffeine. She wouldn't even have a glass of champagne on New Year's. She was just high on life, and people see that as something else I guess."

Murphy, the star of varied films such as "Clueless," ''8 Mile," ''Sin City" and the television series "King of the Hill," was buried in a private funeral on Christmas Eve. At the service, Monjack told mourners that the actress was his best friend and soul mate, sentiments he repeated during the Tuesday interview.

Monjack, who married Murphy in 2007, said police and coroner's officials have not contacted the family to say his wife's death was from anything other than natural causes.

Authorities continue to investigate her death but do not suspect foul play. An autopsy was inconclusive and coroner's officials are awaiting the results of toxicology and tissue tests before determining what killed the actress.

Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter said Tuesday that he had not seen Murphy's autopsy report, but the condition of her heart would be looked at before her cause of death is determined.

Sharon Murphy described the wait for answers as torture. "We wish we knew," she said.

"She was alive one minute and she was dead the next," Monjack said.

The pair worked frantically to save Murphy's life the morning she died, as revealed in a heart-wrenching 911 call where Sharon Murphy implores, "Brittany, please come back!" as Monjack performs CPR.

Sharon Murphy said she has largely ignored tabloid reports that have suggested her daughter abused drugs or had an eating disorder. She said her daughter had always been petite and ate often, but burned it off with an active lifestyle.

Monjack, who has read some of the reports, called them lies based on anonymous sources who weren't close to Brittany Murphy or him. He said he is considering suing some British outlets for "outright fabrications."

He said the rumors of her drug use were unfounded and had cost his wife roles in some major films.

He said he is also considering whether to sue the Los Angeles County Coroner's Department over an initial report that was obtained by celebrity Web site, which listed several prescription medications found in Murphy's home. Monjack said most of the medicines listed in the report were his.

He said his wife took the anti-seizure medication klonopin ever since an episode she had while filming "8 Mile." She also occasionally took Sarafem, a drug aimed at pain and mood swings during menstrual periods, Monjack said.

Klonopin has been cited in several celebrity overdose deaths, but with many other medications mixed in.

He said he did not think a harmful interaction of drugs played a role in his wife's death. She had been sick with flu-like symptoms in the days before her death and had been taking Robitussin, but nothing more, he said.

Monjack and Sharon Murphy remain in the Hollywood Hills home where Brittany Murphy collapsed a month ago. They share grief and memories of Murphy, speaking highly of each other. Monjack calls Murphy his soul mate; Sharon Murphy calls her daughter "my other half."

Former 'Survivor' Contestant Lyon Dead At 37

Former "Survivor" contestant Jennifer Lyon has died at age 37.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, the same year she finished fourth on the CBS reality show - a network representative confirmed her death Wednesday.

Lyon was raised in the Columbia River city of The Dalles. Her biography on says she attended Portland State and Western Oregon universities before graduating from Oregon State.

She joined the "Survivor Palau" competition as a nanny and graduate student from California. Following her diagnosis, she became an advocate for breast cancer awareness.

"Survivor" host Jeff Probst said in a statement he reconnected with Lyon several years ago and stayed in touch during her cancer treatment. In his words, "Her wisdom about how to live a life with quality seemed to grow with each passing day."

Probst said Lyon died in Oregon.

The AP and Entertainment Magazine contributed to this post.

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