In the war between Conan O'Brien and NBC, the real orphans may not be Conan, his staff or even the viewers -- but may be an innocent bear, a dog and a robot, who may never have a home.
NBC is apparantly taking a hard line as to the characters created by Conan and his writers over the years and may try to prevent him from taking those characters to another show. Whether or not this is a good idea [what's NBC going to do with these puppets after he's gone -- give them to Brian Willliams?], how can NBC do this? Aren't these characters Conan's property if he and his production company created them?
Apparantly, this represents a failure of drafting of Conan's initial contract. Since the shows were broadcast on NBC, unless Conan had specifically reserved the right to ownership of these characters, they would revert to NBC on Conan's departure. The fate of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, who was originated by writer Robert Smigel, is less clear.
This is not the first time such has dispute has arisen because of a departing NBC host, however.
In 1993, NBC attorneys tried to prevent David Letterman from taking intellectual property originated on "Late Night" to CBS. Letterman solved the problem by simply renaming bits "Viewer Mail" became "CBS Mailbag" and Larry "Bud" Melman began referring to himself by his real name, Calvert DeForest.
So this dispute may end up with an embarrassing bear in some NBC exec's closet or Conan may have to pay to bail him out.
However, it works out, it shows that you've got to read that contract carefully before you sign it!