Since NBC announced it would effectively demote Conan O’Brien by bumping “The Tonight Show” half an hour into the night, the talk show host has received a tremendous burst of support from the Internet Generation.
Since NBC announced it would effectively demote Conan O’Brien by bumping “The Tonight Show” half an hour into the night, the talk show host has received a tremendous burst of support from the ’Net Generation.
People have been clogging Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and other social networking sites with declarations that they’re members of “Team Conan.”
For a lot of twenty- and thirtysomethings, NBC’s rough handling of O’Brien stands in for a betrayal of opportunity that can be felt across the economy.
It’s the failed promise that hard work, paying your dues and being in the right place at the right time would yield opportunity.
People can’t find jobs or are underemployed for their education and debt. For those who have jobs, the increased workload following layoffs and unfilled positions drives people to contempt, as do managers peddling inanities such as “do more with less.”
And the recent bear market’s mauling of retirement funds means baby boomers are going to hold onto their jobs longer than they otherwise might have.
“Jay Leno is the reason we don’t have jobs,” Molly Lambert said last October in the online magazine This Recording. “Jay Leno’s terrible new show is like our parents not being able to retire.”
Lambert also suggests Conan might have been prematurely promoted, though figuring out why is tricky: Was he not appealing to the older audience that had been watching Leno in that timeslot? Are fans of his intellectually silly style not ready to go to bed at 10:30 p.m.?
As David Carr wrote in Monday’s New York Times, fewer of us are watching TV when shows air — or even on a TV.
I’ve seen highlights from most of the late-night shows since the Leno/Conan mess began, but I’ve watched most of them on a laptop computer, sitting at my kitchen counter. And like those of you reading this story online without subscribing to the paper, that doesn’t pay the bills.
If half the people who have gone online to declare themselves on Team Conan in the last two weeks had been on Team Actually Watching Conan on TV for the last seven months, O’Brien would not have been forced out.
We shouldn’t lose too much sleep over the Lenonan mess (“Lenonan” — you heard it here first): Late Wednesday, an agreement was reached that lets O'Brien leave NBC with about $40 million in severance pay for himself and his contract staff.
So it’s not like he’s going to have to eat bugs or apprentice himself to Donald Trump.
And yet, something about how this was handled sticks in the craw, particularly the way in which Leno and the NBC overlords never seemed ready to release the reins to Conan in the first place.
On Tuesday night, David Letterman pointed out that if you get fired — as Leno effectively was by NBC when the network decided in 2004 that Conan would inherit “The Tonight Show” — you leave and find another job.
“You go across the street, and you punish NBC, and you make them eat your words,” Letterman said, obliquely referring to his own move to CBS when NBC chose Leno over him to host “The Tonight Show” in the early 1990s.
“You get fired, get another gig. Don’t hang around waiting for somebody to drop dead,” Letterman said.
But wait around Leno did. It’s like someone selling an Italian restaurant and then opening another one across the street. Is it any surprise that business will be down at both?
Conan put in his time on “Late Night,” willing himself from a talented writer and mediocre talk show host into someone who was good at both. And in 2004, when Conan was considering his opportunities, NBC convinced him to sit tight by promising a promotion in five years.
In retrospect, it looks like NBC tricked him into sitting tight. When the time came, it reluctantly gave him the keys to the kingdom but kept a locksmith on standby.
The last word goes to my friend Kiyoshi Martinez — a former journalist, ahem — from his blog: “Conan became the embodiment of generational rage and rebellion and we’d finally found a hero to root for, who acted like we wanted to act but never could. And he did this in public, on the broadest of platforms, for everyone to bond around.”
Vive la Conan!
Brian Mackey can be reached at email@example.com. You also may want to follow him on Twitter. This column is the opinion of the writer and not of the newspaper.