"This level of sh- - -iness was not expected," one source said.
"He's done a great job for NBC. He moved his entire staff, he moved his family to LA. And five months later, they repay him like this?"
As it stands now, the source said, "Conan would be happier somewhere else."
However, a major NBC player said Sunday, ''If Conan plays ball, swallows his pride -- which certainly is not easy -- and accepts a return to the later slot, he stands to be paid a very hefty bonus in return.''
From the network's standpoint, paying O'Brien several million more dollars annually still would be preferable to being forced to pay the TV personality an estimated $20 million per year for the remaining four years on his contract, and have him do nothing.
Reportedly, even if O'Brien did agree to jump to Fox or ABC -- as have been floated as serious possibilities -- NBC still would have to shell out any differential that might remain between O'Brien's new contract and his old NBC deal.
For example, if Fox or ABC paid him $15 million annually, NBC reportedly would still be obligated to pay him an added $5 million to fulfill the terms of his NBC contract.
A source very close to O'Brien, who requested anonymity Sunday, said, ''Conan is extremely upset about all this, and how the news leaked out and how it has been handled by NBC -- so far. While he understands Jay's show hasn't worked, he thinks he's being made the fall guy,'' even though O'Brien's own ratings performance in the "Tonight Show" time slot has been very disappointing.