Wednesday, January 13, 2010

To taking the high road and not burning bridges…

Conan O’Brien has every right to flat out pissed at NBC. They kept him tethered to his 12:35 a.m. slot for five years by promising him The Tonight Show, and then pulled the plug after a short seven months because of their own programming ineptitude. The following is Conan’s witty, yet graceful, response to his bosses at NBC (via

People of Earth:

In the last few days, I’ve been getting a lot of sympathy calls, and I want to start by making it clear that no one should waste a second feeling sorry for me. For 17 years, I’ve been getting paid to do what I love most and, in a world with real problems, I’ve been absurdly lucky. That said, I’ve been suddenly put in a very public predicament and my bosses are demanding an immediate decision.

Six years ago, I signed a contract with NBC to take over The Tonight Show in June of 2009. Like a lot of us, I grew up watching Johnny Carson every night and the chance to one day sit in that chair has meant everything to me. I worked long and hard to get that opportunity, passed up far more lucrative offers, and since 2004 I have spent literally hundreds of hours thinking of ways to extend the franchise long into the future. It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule. Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is impossible without both.

But sadly, we were never given that chance. After only seven months, with my Tonight Show in its infancy, NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime-time by making a change in their long-established late night schedule.

Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move the Tonight Show to 12:05 to accommodate the Jay Leno Show at 11:35. For 60 years the Tonight Show has aired immediately following the late local news. I sincerely believe that delaying the Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn’t the Tonight Show. Also, if I accept this move I will be knocking the Late Night show, which I inherited from David Letterman and passed on to Jimmy Fallon, out of its long-held time slot. That would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be unfair to Jimmy.

So it has come to this: I cannot express in words how much I enjoy hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment it is for me to consider losing it. My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of The Tonight Show. But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction. Some people will make the argument that with DVRs and the Internet a time slot doesn’t matter. But with the Tonight Show, I believe nothing could matter more.

There has been speculation about my going to another network but, to set the record straight, I currently have no other offer and honestly have no idea what happens next. My hope is that NBC and I can resolve this quickly so that my staff, crew, and I can do a show we can be proud of, for a company that values our work.

Have a great day and, for the record, I am truly sorry about my hair; it’s always been that way.



Do you think NBC will be more or less likely to work with Conan to amicably resolve this dispute because of how he is handling himself? Conan is much better served by issuing this respectful, witty, yet pointed statement, than having his lawyers (and trust me, he has lawyers advising him every step of the way) threaten to unleash unholy hell upon NBC. Kudos for Conan for taking the high road and explaining why he is making his decision without unnecessarily skewering the corporate executives whom he must believe screwed him.

Employees leave businesses each and every day, yet many believe that it is acceptable to burn bridges as they run from one employer to another. For example, it never ceases to amaze me how many employees think its better for them to open a competing shop and poach customers instead of sitting down with their former employer to work out the terms of an existing noncompetition agreement. Employees are best served following Conan’s example in exiting a business – even if they have to swallow a little bit of pride and take the high road.

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