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NBC U loses a round with O’Brien

Judge denies temporary restraining order

This article was updated at 9:28 p.m.

Paramount won round one in NBC Universal’s fight to keep Pat O’Brien from starting work on his new syndie strip, “The Insider.”

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs denied NBC U’s motion to slap a temporary restraining order on O’Brien, who raised NBC U’s ire by conducting interviews last week with various news outlets, including Daily Variety, about the new show.

The judge’s ruling came shortly after NBC U filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday (Daily Variety, July 13), arguing that by talking to the press as well as meeting publicly with producers about the show, O’Brien was in breach of his “Access Hollywood” contract — which doesn’t expire until the end of August.

NBC U is also asking for unspecified monetary damages.

“One can hardly imagine a more blatant violation of O’Brien’s contract than his active participation in the promotion and planning of a competing show, while under contract with KNBC, and while being paid his full salary (which exceeds $1 million per year) by KNBC,” the suit said.

Janavs scheduled an expedited hearing for July 23, at which time NBC U plans to ask for a preliminary injunction against O’Brien.

“At that time, we hope the court will grant the order we are seeking,” NBC U Television Distribution said in a statement.

Attorney Patty Glaser, who is handling the case for Paramount, said the distrib had no intention of running ads promoting O’Brien as host of “The Insider” prior to Aug. 29 (a day after O’Brien’s “Access” pact expires).

“The activities they’re complaining about we believe were perfectly appropriate,” she said. “All he’s done is Paramount issued a press release announcing the show and (O’Brien) spoke to five different news outlets. That’s it.”

However, CBS is expected to announce plans to hold a press conference next week for “The Insider,” with O’Brien and exec producer Linda Bell Blue onstage during its portion of the TV critics press tour.

Given that O’Brien’s contract with “Access” is up in just five weeks — during several of which he’ll be in Athens covering the 2004 Olympics for NBC Sports — Glaser wondered why an injunction was needed at all.

The judge “wasn’t convinced their reading of the contract was correct,” Glaser said. “We are extremely pleased with the result.”

During the hearing, Janavs pointed out that NBC U actually sent out the first press release, announcing O’Brien’s departure and his replacement, Billy Bush. It then became public knowledge that O’Brien was heading to “The Insider.”

(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)

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