When I tuned in to watch Conan O'Brien's much-hyped interview on 60 Minutes, I thought he was going to give the inside scoop on what really came down with the whole Tonight Show thing. It was one of those stories that caught fire with the public by tapping into generalized disgust with big corporations and a love of the good guy done wrong story that never wears out. In his last weeks on air, Conan cleverly rode the wave of public support and worked it with great skill and humor. He walked away licking his wounds with his 30-plus-million dollar settlement. Because he had agreed to certain terms to secure his deal, he could not appear on television for a while and went out on tour to make his case to live audiences. He tells one of those audiences, in a clip on 60 Minutes, that it is the first time anyone has ever paid money to see him perform.
But instead of juicy inside scoop, we heard from a seemingly fragile man, hurt by what he perceived to be an injustice done to him. It was taped at his beautiful home where he appeared bearded and casual, stating that he began to grow his beard on the first day that he no longer had to get up and go to his Tonight Show job. Wow, 60 Minutes, thank you for allowing us to know that previously little known fact.
As a supporting interview, we heard from none other than Conan's lovely wife. How surprising that she supported him 100 % and felt that he had made all the right decisions. Wow, 60 Minutes, thanks for giving us this additional point of view.
As a business owner myself, I can relate to NBC's position in all of this. There is a perception out there that the employer has unlimited resources to always do the right thing and so often simply doesn't out of greed or a lack of ethics. Just as each employee has a job description and is expected to fulfill its specifications to the best of his ability, the employer's job is to build and run a profitable company using the best decision making ability possible. In bad times, it is the employer's job to keep the company afloat, absorb losses, and get lean. In fact, the continued employment of its workers depends on it. Assuming risk goes with the job. One of my friends who retired from a top job at a major university and is now helping his son-in-law with an internet start-up said it best. "I came out of institutions where you were provided an office, air conditioning, computers, phones, and a pay check. You never had to think about paying the light bill."
Now before you go getting all worked up about my lack of acknowledgement of corporate greed, don't waste your energy. I know corporations get greedy. It's built into the American dream. But even so, Conan O'Brien was the ultimate example of the wronged employee syndrome. He will never have to worry about paying his mortgage, he secured another gig on a cable channel with compensation most can only dream about, he got the kind of boost to his career that cannot be bought by any publicist or agent, he toured the country to enthusiastic paying crowds, and he snagged a spot on 60 Minutes. This is a far cry from quietly taking over the Tonight Show to subsequent sagging ratings as Letterman pounced on the opportunity to finally become the king. One could argue that he is better off now. Sure, he's butt hurt that Jay took the show back after promising to give it up and wishing him well, but Conan is an employee and NBC was doing its job by protecting that valuable late night time slot and stopping the bleeding that was Jay's new show. They had every right to make the decision to go with their proven winner and they fairly compensated Conan for it. Can you seriously tell me that Conan believed that in a situation with such financial implications for the network, Jay and the big boys at NBC were going to say that Conan's feelings were more important than righting the ship? If so, he is in the wrong business.
If Conan brought his story to the people via a coveted spot on 60 Minutes to gain their sympathy or understanding, I think he chose the wrong audience and the wrong national time slot. When an average American loses his job, very bad things happen to an entire family. And there isn't another job waiting and the phone is not ringing off the hook with interview requests. Wow, 60 Minutes, maybe you could cover that story instead? There are no shortage of subjects to choose from and no shortage of viewers who could relate.
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