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The Conan Connection

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Right now, if all is going according to plan, dozens of draftees to the "I'm with Coco" movement are converging on NBC offices across the country to stage a series of rallies in support of Conan O'Brien. The Chicago Tribune did a little preview piece on these events in today's edition and it features one quote that really caught my eye -- mostly because I think it hits on something largely overlooked by those who've been endlessly debating the NBC-Leno-Conan miasma.

Obviously, there are plenty of people out there who've asked the very legitimate question, "Why should I care about what happens to any of these multi-millionaires? So Conan's gonna be paid a fortune to walk away from a job -- so what?" There's no reason to argue with this sentiment because it makes complete sense. But the fact that's inescapable is this: A lot of people do care what happens to Conan; he wouldn't be getting paid all that money if they didn't. In our culture, we care about movie and TV stars, musicians, comedians and athletes, which is exactly why they're rich; they're paid in direct proportion to how entertained we are by them -- how well we think they can act or sing or make us laugh or throw a football down a field (and on a side note, I'm willing to bet that quite a few of the people complaining about the injustice of late night talk show hosts making millions are the same ones who cheer their asses off for guys like A-Rod, Peyton and LeBron).

Yes, in the great scheme of things, it really doesn't personally affect anyone that Conan O'Brien's getting screwed by NBC -- but that's where the quote in the Tribune comes in. When asked about the reasoning behind his passionate crusade for Conan, Mike Mitchell, a 27-year-old from Los Angeles who, through social networking, instigated today's protest, said, "A lot of people have really crappy bosses; they can relate."

And you know what? He's absolutely right.

What makes the story of NBC's underhanded treatment of Conan O'Brien resonate with so many isn't simply that they enjoy his brand of humor more than Jay Leno's; it's that in a flatlining economy, where imperious corporate robber barons have swindled the little guy blind and laughed all the way to the Hamptons while doing it, when millions are out of work and many of those lucky enough to still have jobs are struggling three times as hard thanks to staff cutbacks, when almost everyone really can relate to the feeling of being crushed under the wheels of the cold-blooded corporate culture and the bosses who espouse it -- this is when the executives at mega-media giant NBC decided to ruthlessly end the career of a guy who's been loyal, humble and classy even as he's been at the mercy of the most Machiavellian of machinations. On top of that, they had the balls to actually bad mouth him in public. And they did all of this knowing full well that they could. That there was nothing anyone could do to stop them. Sure, a lot of Americans like Conan O'Brien. But even more are just plain tired of heartless company liners getting away with this kind of crap. The average person really can't identify with Conan O'Brien per se; but they sure do know what it's like to have management stab you in the back while a conniving co-worker who wants your job twists the knife.

And that's what it all comes down to, and it's really an incredible thing when you think about it. NBC has managed to do the seemingly impossible: make a multi-millionaire look like a victim, a little guy everyone can relate to and get behind. What's more, NBC executives of all people should've seen this coming. After all, that's why they were paying Conan so much in the first place -- because people liked him.