01/18/2010 12:38 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Too Bad Conan Is Giving Up

I think Conan O'Brien is passing up a helluva opportunity. He could stay on at NBC and, night after night, have an incredible revenge. Instead he's acting like there can't possibly be a reasonable explanation for the bad manners, amazing incompetence, casual cruelties, and self-destructive impulses at NBC, and so he's going to take the high road and get as far as he can from these nutters.

But, really, he knows the drill.

The price Comcast has agreed to pay to acquire a majority interest in NBC depends, in part, on the Tonight Show. The Conan-Leno experiment in scheduling and demographics (a mad scientist sort of experiment) was conceived before the Comcast deal. Now every penny that Conan doesn't make that Jay would have made will cost GE and, as well, anyone whose payout is contingent on the final price of the deal, too much to make them anything less than freaky desperate to return those dollars to the show.

Then, too, the only part of the culture of network television that still reliably exists (after the perks, ratings, glamour, and fun have gone) is heartlessness and cruelty. Everybody in network television has faced some version of the sudden dismissal with extreme prejudice that has been heaped on Conan. It's part of the bargain: Networks get you the attention of the nation (true, much less attention than they used to get you, but still the most you can get), but the deal is that they can take it back at any time, for any reason, based on any whim.

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