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Leno, Oprah, Conan and taxes

Yeah, I know that headline looks like a flat-out attempt to get you to click. Worked!

Seriously, or as seriously as you can get when talking about rich celebrities talking to each other on TV, there is a connection. Here are the dots.

Black dot Jay is bearing his soul to Oprah on her television show, scheduled to air this afternoon. Is your DVR set?

A preview from NPR's Monkey See blog says that Leno apparently doesn't provide any shocking new insight into the network's best reality soap opera. He's still standing by  his "I'm a victim, too" position, pointing out to Ms. Winfrey that he was fired twice by NBC.

Coco Conan OBrien Victim. Yeah, right. Let's ask Conan O'Brien about getting fired.

Of course, being bounced from The Tonight Show isn't exactly the worst thing that could happen to anyone.  Even fans of Coco can't be too sad for him. He left with a literal truckload of cash.

Black dot And at least one person says that part of Conan's severance deal -- $32 million to the former late-night host, with another $12 million or so for his staff -- is thanks to us taxpayers.

"Though it wasn't a recipient of direct aid from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, GE availed itself of perhaps an equally important bailout facility, the Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program overseen by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.," writes Thomson Reuters' corporate finance and investment columnist Rolfe Winkler in Conan the bailout barbarian.

Without FDIC backing, GE's financial branch GE Capital would have struggled and likely forced GE to liquidate assets, starting with NBC. If that had type of fire sale had happened, says Winkler, the new owners could have demanded changes to huge contracts likes O'Briens.

So Conan owes a bit of thanks to taxpayers for his big severance check.

Corporate dealings note: While the Jay-Conan shenanigans were going on, cable giant Comcast subsequently struck a deal, about to be looked into by a Senate antitrust committee, to acquire a majority stake in NBC-Universal from GE.

Black dot Finally, Conan's bad-luck-turned-profitable-buyout also got me thinking about us regular folks who don't get such nice deals when we get pink slips.

The way the economy is nowadays, we're lucky if we get anything from our former employer. We simply head to the unemployment office and sign up for those benefits to help tide us over for while.

And adding injury to insult, we have to pay taxes on unemployment payments.

At least there's a tiny bit of tax relief in this regard. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that became law last February, the first $2,400 of unemployment benefits a laid-off worker got last year are exempt from federal taxation.

If you manage to still be in the 25 percent tax bracket for 2009 even after losing your job, that will save you $600 on your tax bill.

The bad news is if you're still collecting unemployment in 2010, there's no exemption (yet) for any of those benefits.

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Wes Masters

Kay - frustrating to hear that taxpayer money might be used to line Coco's pockets. I mean, I like the guy and all (definitely like him more than Jay)...but does his hush money have to come from us?

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