Being a major television host or actor in Hollywood can often be an extremely lucrative venture for both the TV personality and the network or studio that he or she works for. Sometimes, though, due to do a decline in ratings, bad blood between on air personalities and network executives, lack of professionalism, or simply being too long in the tooth, long-standing TV personalities can be fired and replaced.
When these changes take place the transition can often be extremely messy for both parties. Many of the biggest TV stars have airtight and detailed contracts, so if they are let go they can reap the reward of a hefty monetary sum in the form of a contract buyout. It happens all the time in professional sports, but in TV land it’s much less common. However, it does happen from time to time. Payment isn't the only thing that’s outlined in a TV contract; usually penalties for termination, the rights of the network, and non-competition clauses are included as well. Take Conan O'Brien hosting The Tonight Show for example; when he left The Tonight Show he wasn't allowed to appear on another station for a year, and although he received hefty severance pay, he lost the rights to all his characters to the network. Of course, he ended up coming out on top as most high-profile TV stars do.
In the ever-changing TV landscape it is more important than ever for TV stars and networks to develop detailed contracts that cover every detail imaginable. O'Brien didn't have a clause in his contract that disallowed time slot changes so when he refused to move the Tonight Show back an hour he was let go. Because of this, other late night hosts are likely to have penalties for time slot changes added to their contracts during renegotiations. Most of the examples on this list are from late night network TV, but there are some news anchors and sitcom stars who received surprisingly big pay outs to go away. Here’s a look at some costly contract buyouts in television history; these 7 stars lost out, but the blow was softened when they made big bucks in the process.
6 Ann Curry Forced Out, Makes $10 Million
5 Craig Ferguson passed over as host of The Late Show, Makes $5 - 12 Million
The most recent addition to this list is Scottish talk show host Craig Ferguson. With David Letterman set to retire as host of the Late Show in 2015, there was much speculation as to who would replace him behind the desk. Potential candidates included Neil Patrick Harris, Jon Stewart, Drew Carey, Conan O'Brien and of course Ferguson himself. With Ferguson having hosted The Late Late Show since 2005, it may have seemed like a natural choice to move him one hour earlier to replace Letterman. However, insiders speculated he was never really a contender and CBS executives likely did not choose him because of his eccentric antics that may not have translated well to the 11:35 p.m. timeslot: Two interns in a horse costume and a gay, talking robot skeleton as a sidekick might not be welcomed too kindly by the older demographic that tunes in for The Late Show.
4 Chevy Chase Lasts 5 Weeks with Fox, Makes $12 Million
3 Jay Leno Gets the Boot (Again), Makes $15 Million
2 Rosie O'Donnell Kicked Off Oprah’s Network, Makes $15 Million
1 Conan O'Brien and crew receive $45 million to stay off TV for a year
In one of the messiest transitions in all of TV history, Conan O'Brien was fired as host of the Tonight Show on NBC when he refused to move his show back an hour to make way for the return of Jay Leno, after Leno’s primetime talk show bombed.
In 2011 Charlie Sheen was on a highly-publicised, epic drug-fuelled rampage and meltdown. He spouted nonsense about tiger blood and 'winning' and appeared under the influence during numerous interviews. He became increasingly belligerent of the set of the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men and got in a heated battle with Two and a Half Men creator and producer Chuck Lorre. He even resorted to calling Lorre ethnic slurs. Something had to be done; so Sheen was fired from the show and his character killed off unceremoniously. He was bought out of his contract and initially received $25 million severance. He will reportedly receive payments from CBS until the end of his agreed contract in 2016 when a total payout of $125 million is reached.
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