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
Ann Curry made a tearful and heartfelt goodbye to her viewers when she announced she would be leaving her post as co-host of Today on June 28, 2012. She had only been co-host for about a year, and a few weeks before she announced on air that she would be leaving her post there were rumblings around the blogosphere that all was not well. Ratings for Today were declining steadily and she reportedly lacked chemistry with the popular Matt Lauer. The experience was painful to watch and it is rumoured network executives had an elaborate plan in place to get Curry to leave. She was paid $10 million, though, and went on to sign a new multi-year contract giving her the title of NBC News National and International Correspondent.
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.
The network eventually chose Stephen Colbert who was said to be the only real candidate, according to insiders. Luckily, Ferguson had a useful, airtight clause in his contract, which states that if he were not offered the role of The Late Show host he would get a hefty sum. The exact figure is not known, but it is speculated to be in the range of $5 to $12 million.
4 Chevy Chase Lasts 5 Weeks with Fox, Makes $12 Million
Few talk shows have failed so spectacularly as The Chevy Chase Show, which debuted on the Fox network in 1993. It aired its final episode in 1993 as well – just five weeks after it debuted. The reviewers were not kind to the show, and critics lambasted Chase for his extremely poor interviewing skills and reliance on the old Chevy Chase stand by: pratfalls. The failure of the show was evident from the beginning and the network executives soon decided to pull the plug. Despite lasting only a little over a month, Chase still received the full sum of his contract, which totaled an estimated $12 million at the time. Chase later said the failure of the show was because he was forced to do it the way Fox wanted and that he was not allowed to reinvent the late night talk show genre. Since the failure of The Chevy Chase show, Fox has not aired a weeknight talk show again.
3 Jay Leno Gets the Boot (Again), Makes $15 Million
While Jay Leno leaving The Tonight Show went a lot smoother the second time around than it did the first time, NBC executives still had to crack open their wallets. Because NBC wanted Jimmy Fallon to take over The Tonight Show during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, they had to buy out Jay Leno from the remaining time on his contract. Leno’s contract did not expire until September of 2014 and he was paid $15 million to leave early and make way for the much younger and Internet-savvy Fallon. The move seems to be worth the money for NBC. Fallon’s ratings are extremely strong, and much better than when Conan O'Brien hosted The Tonight show. His YouTube channel garners millions of views and he has been praised as being extremely likeable. Leno’s staff and crew were also paid a buyout equivalent to their pay until the end of September 2014.
2 Rosie O'Donnell Kicked Off Oprah’s Network, Makes $15 Million
Like Chase, Rosie O'Donnell didn't last very long in her most recent attempt at being a talk show host. Unlike her first gig doing a syndicated daytime talk show called The Rosie O'Donnell Show, she was not successful on Oprah Winfrey’s cable network OWN. Attempts were made to increase ratings by bringing in a new producer, and production costs were cut heavily in an attempt to increase revenue during the final months of Rosie. Unfortunately, it was all to no avail and O'Donnell was bought out of her contract after only five months. She reportedly received a $15 million payout on her contract, which was initially $40 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.
O'Brien was paid just over $32 million to leave and his staff received just over $12 million. In total, he and his staff received about $45 million from NBC. He was not allowed to be on television for a year so he took to the road on a multi-city tour through the United States and Canada entitled the Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television Tour. His stage show featured jabs at NBC brass, uproarious rockabilly songs, dance numbers, and surprise guest stars like Jim Carrey. When O'Brien was finally allowed back on TV he appeared on Letterman’s Late Show, 60 Minutes and finally signed a multiyear production deal with TBS where he now hosts CONAN.
1. Charlie Sheen Paid $125 Million to Leave Two and a Half Men
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.