Conan: Protecting His Staff, or It’s All His Fault?

Posted by: Patricia O'Connell on January 20, 2010

Should Conan have thought about the welfare of his staff before he said he wouldn’t move The Tonight Show to 12:05? I’m torn on this point. One of the hallmarks of a great boss/leader is that he or she looks out for the welfare of his/her employees. And supposedly getting hefty severance packages for his staff—or at least some of them—is what’s now holding up the messy Conan O’Brien/NBC divorce, which seems inevitable.

Let me say I think Conan has been treated shabbily by NBC. He is funnier than ever (being a lame duck has made him fearless), and he has handled the disintegration of his dream job with what appears to be not just heavy doses of humor but with some grace as well. And I completely buy that he believes as host of The Tonight Show, he is custodian of an institution whose heritage and traditions must be protected. But at the expense of scores of jobs for people who uprooted their lives from NYC to LA? It’s a lot easier to defend tradition when you are looking at a multi-million payout.

Then again, Conan was one of the people who from the beginning of the 2007 writer’s strike paid his staff, and maybe he can secure his employees enough severance so they can chill out until he starts a new gig somewhere and rehire them.

So, here’s my question: Is Conan being a leader by holding out for severance for his staff, or did he fail as a leader by not thinking about them before he made a decision that would put them all out of work? Tell me what you think.

And here’s what I think in a random bit of advice for Conan and David Letterman, who has been a great defender of O’Brien. If Jay Leno does resume hosting The Tonight Show, Letterman should have Conan as his first guest. Sure, Letterman could be Conan’s last guest (and I guess NBC can’t control what Conan’s guests say , so it would but fun), but everyone will watch Conan’s last show regardless of who he has on. But Dave and Conan could make sure nobody watches Jay’s first. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”…

Reader Comments

Amanda

January 20, 2010 9:54 PM

I'm not worried about his staff at all. What do you think happens when football coaches move around? Tons of people, not getting paid nearly as much as Conan's staff, get moved around for their jobs all the time. They'll deal like everyone else does.

Chris Baskind

January 20, 2010 10:03 PM

Leader. He'd have failed if he accepted NBC's terms, and then his team would be out sans such generous terms.

I rather expect he'll resurface come autumn, with much of his current crew in tow. And good luck to him.

alex

January 20, 2010 10:03 PM

He brought his same staff with him to the tonight show, he'll bring them whereever he goes afterwards. Hes essentially giving his staff a well paid vacation. im sure they are behind him 100% and are prolly working to develope new ideas for where ever they go

sam

January 20, 2010 10:03 PM

I love Conan, but I do not think we should blame jay, it is not his fault. David Letterman should accept the fact that Jay beat him in ratings for 12 years...move on dude.

Mire

January 20, 2010 10:20 PM

Jay Leno sould accept because of Dave, he's been trashed by TV critics and fellow comedians for 20 years.

Compared to add-libbing genius Letterman, Leno who can't do nothing without his writers and couldn't come up with a single comeback againt Kimmel's verbal murder the other day is a total moron.

And Letterman was a clear winner during 93-95 season.
Leno, as usual, lied in his statement that he was winning 92-04 straight.

Vern

January 20, 2010 10:21 PM

I think Conan has handled it all very gracefully. And I think he is doing what he believes is right. I am sure his staff knows him and agrees with his decisions. NBC is the bad guys here and well Jay he's a worm that does whatever is good for Jay no matter the cost or who gets hurt. No respect for Jay Leno whatsoever. Conan and Dave keep it coming til the very end you both Rock !

Patrick

January 20, 2010 10:25 PM

Conan is negotiating a total of 8million in severance for his staff, plus another 4.5 million for his executive producer.

Plus, Conan gets to go back on the air on whatever station he wants in September.

So, if Fox can pick him up by then, then Conan will bring his staff with him, PLUS they get severance for the time off.

The reason Negotiations are still going is because Conan is trying to get as much money for his staff as possible.

David

January 20, 2010 10:29 PM

Conan was lucky to get the show in the first place. His writing is not near what it used to be. It's hard to feel concerned for the staff. With 30 mil, Conan could set them up in Hawaii till the next show is ready and not even feel it. NBC should've had a provision to put everything back where it was if the Leno thing didn't work. They really must be idiots.

riibu

January 20, 2010 10:49 PM

Word is that Conan broke down in tears when he told his staff his decision, so I think it's safe to say he's been thinking of them since the start of this mess.

And if he had just allowed the show to be pushed back a half hour that would have affected Carson Daly's show for sure (not that it's great TV, but it's still someone's source of income) and possibly Jimmy Fallon. And Conan would have had NO bargaining power for any of those people.

Leader, through and through.

Cindy

January 20, 2010 10:49 PM

Yes, Conan should have thought about the welfare of his staff before rejecting teh 12:05 move. That move, although clearly perceived by him as a huge comedown, could have sent his ratings through the roof as Jay's late night peeps once again rallied to watch him first. For Conan to get up on his high horse and blame everybody but himself was immature and ill-considered, especially since we now know from Jay that the very FIRST thing NBC did upon reading that public up yours was to make sure Jay would take The Tonight Show back if Conan walked. So right from the get-go, they knew he could walk and they had an ace in the hole. Conan didn't have them over a barrel as he may have thought, and he may also have seriously pissed off NBC by referring to the show as "my Tonight Show." NBC promptly gave "their" Tonight Show right back to Jay.

So, from the moment Conan decided to be insubordinate, all those jobs were toast. Further, Conan's reps were still arguing for Conan to keep the Tonight Show at 12:30, indicating that neither he nor they fully understood that Conan and his staff were to be jettisoned and that the decision had already been made.

Nick

January 20, 2010 10:55 PM

I don't believe that this is even a question of whether or not Conan was "not thinking" of his staff when he made his decision to refuse the 12:05 spot. Conan is an entertainment purist and put tradition first. He knew that to accept the offer would have been to bastardize, damage and defile the Tonight Show as an institution. He stuck to his guns and held to principle.

I also suspect that both Conan and his staff at 12:05 would have been an unhappy, resentful lot, and it would have reflected in the show.

Jay Leno could have avoided this whole stink by making a graceful exit, instead of lingering with some creepy sense of entitlement. If you want to point a finger at someone responsible for all these Conan staffers who now find themselves jobless in LA, blame Leno.

Jefferson

January 20, 2010 11:02 PM

David: At least Conan's show has some written stuff. Leno's two recurring skits are Headlines (reading newspaper typos that fans send it) and Jaywalking (getting stupid people on film saying stupid things).

To answer the columnists question...Conan showing huge class here. I've never heard of anyone in show biz showing this much concern for their employees. Good, good guy.

Sara

January 20, 2010 11:17 PM

Why does everyone think its OK for Leno to have been forced into retirement against his will?

If that's OK then Madonna should retire so Lady Gaga or Ke$ha can sell more records.

NBC never should have forced Leno to go. Then we wouldn't be having this idiotic discussion in the first place.

Alan

January 20, 2010 11:36 PM

I agree Sara, they shouldn't have forced Leno to go - but they did in order to keep Conan. If they didn't, Conan would have gone elsewhere years ago.

I'm not sure why NBC loves Leno so much. While I don't blame Jay for this, I don't think he will get the Tonight Show to where it was before...My guess is that if Conan goes to Fox at 11pm, Leno will be in 3rd place, behind Letterman and Conan.

Coco fan

January 20, 2010 11:41 PM

Cindy. YOU ARE AN IDIOT!

Jay was maneuvering for the job a couple years after HE decided to move to 10 - even though he said it was a bad idea. Dave Letterman said it best when he said it was great that people were seeing the real Jay - an egotistical prick who thought jaywalking with morons like you would get ratings. It didn't work. NBC is in "the toilet," according to Julia Roberts.

Please, don't consider anything the Chin says as gospel. He will fade away once Coco takes back 11:30 on...Fox?

Roark

January 20, 2010 11:46 PM

I think people identify with Conan right now because of what just happened in the economy. There are so many Jay Leno's and corporations with war chests of money that lay off the brightest and the best. Conan is one of the smartest and wittiest comedians of all time. There are so many Leno's out there and NBC douchbag execs. Please don't watch Leno and don't watch the olympics on NBC - they are hoping you will watch that and then forget about what they have done and bring Leno back

Sampson

January 20, 2010 11:50 PM

Ultimately, Conan had to do what was right for him. Several famous rock bands in the past often felt obligated to keep touring, even as it killed them, to keep their staff, friends and business afloat. Many of these staffers had years and years of solid work because of Conan, which is in stark contrast to most television shows that often conclude after a few seasons. If Conan could not, with a good conscience, take the 12:05 slot and perform without bitterness or hostility, then he should not be held responsible for the professional lives of so many people. NBC made many poor decisions over the last six years, and it's unfortunate it has affected Conan's staff, but that is corporate business. NBC is part of a massive conglomerate that operates solely for the purpose of making profit for its shareholders. One assumes risk whenever working for one of these conglomerates, like when thousands of Time Warner employees saw their benefits plummet at the hands of an ill-advised merger. Had I been at the wheel of NBC after initially promising Conan the Tonight Show, first, I would have broken the contract with Conan in 2008 and paid the price, rather than building him a new studio, relocating his entire staff, giving him a raise and pulling our still-successful host from the show. Or, if I had been in charge starting two months ago, and I was unhappy with Conan's performance, I would have started looking for someone new. You can't just go back to the way it was and expect it to be the same. Leno's Tonight Show future will be forever tainted. So, Conan's doing the right thing in departing from this mismanaged company while getting all the money he can for himself and his staff.

ac

January 20, 2010 11:53 PM

Leno should have left, but NBC got greedy and didn't give Conan a fair shot. That said, if you can make $25 million with Jay, vs. losing $3 million with Conan, you go with Jay. Leno is mass market, but that is because he understands his customer and works his tail off on the circuit every year to figure out what works. Conan not only failed to do that, but he was also getting worse at his own schtick.

I like conan a lot - but I hope he goes to HBO so he can be funny again. The tonight show isn't going to be worth anything once the baby boomers retire.

purplegiraffe

January 20, 2010 11:56 PM

Cindy -

1) When Conan said "my Tonight Show" obviously the purpose of the word "my" was to differentiate between his version of the Tonight Show and Jay Leno's, and anybody else's. DUH.

2) "Insubordinate"?? Really??! I really hate people like you. People who use the word "immature" too much. And who use it as a weapon. Authoritarian $@&!s.

3) The idea that Conan doesn't care about his staff is completely ludicrous. Anyone who would make that case doesn't know the first thing about Conan (so they probably shouldn't spew their mouths). Why am I not surprised this is published by an organization with "business" in its name.

Joe

January 20, 2010 11:56 PM

This girl Cindy is an idiot.
Conan rocks

Fruckit

January 21, 2010 12:15 AM

Coco Fan is right. Don't blame Jay? Are you guys serious? The guy has turned out to be a phony. David Letterman, Rosie O'Donnell, Howard Stern, George Lopez, and so on have all said as much for years. I will never look at Leno the same way. The chickens really came home to roost on this one.

PolishMe

January 21, 2010 12:20 AM

Wow Cindy ... I never seen anyone misinterpret so many things in one post. My head is exploding from the lack of keen assessment on the topic. Wow.

MidWestGal

January 21, 2010 12:27 AM

I agree, Conan should be Dave's first guest on Jay's first nite back. I remember when Dave had Norm McDonald on after NBC fired him due to his jokes on SNL about OJ, I think Dave respects Conan's intelligence and comedic genius

Yo

January 21, 2010 12:35 AM

Cindy obviously doesn't know what she is talking about.

Skip

January 21, 2010 1:24 AM

Me thinks you have too much time on your hands if you are worried about Conan O'Brien's staff. Really. More people will get fired from any company. 200 people? Really? I would say these folks need articles more than most of the folks on his staff but not one once of worry will be spilled over them. Sad how we all have this desire to orbit around these things. Oh hell, I'm doing it too. STUPID!

http://www.nydailynews.com/money/2009/01/19/2009-01-19_new_york_to_lead_us_in_job_losses.html

http://www.nydailynews.com/money/2009/01/19/2009-01-19_new_york_to_lead_us_in_job_losses.html

jara

January 21, 2010 1:29 AM

If all you Coco fans were watching, there would be no issue, Coca would keep show and Leno woululd be fired from 10PM. Bottom line here is that Coco lost half the ratings and the show was bleeding red ink. Leno delivered $50 mil profit a year, Conan on way to $5 mil loss. If that were your business, would you keep Coco???? Sheesh, people, wake up! It's about money, plain and simple

Bob

January 21, 2010 1:55 AM

Why does everyone think its OK for Leno to have been forced into retirement against his will?

Because he willingly ACCEPTED it. He said YES. He personally announced, in 2004, that he was happy with the decision. He allowed the world around him (NBC, Conan and his staff and their families) to plan, relocate and adjust their lives around HIS publicly declared decision, ... FOR FIVE YEARS.

And then on the 11th hour, he changes his mind, lets his real feelings be known (that he wasn't happy retiring and felt pressured) and changed everybody's plan for his own personal need. THAT is why he is not innocent here, no matter how you try to spin it.

Look, people make wrong decisions and change their minds all the time. But when your wrong decision (even if that is one where you were supposedly "pressured" into making) affected the lives of so many people you supposedly respect, ... and for FIVE YEARS... you MAN UP and accept YOUR MISTAKE. Not make other people pay for it.

none

January 21, 2010 2:16 AM

I'm sure some degree of discussion went on between Conan and his staff before he decided to post his statement. Conan has always been known to be good to his staff. Also, if Conan had sat back and done nothing while NBC was essentially destroying a franchise and Conan's show his staff would have been put at risk either way... only this time NBC would be able to blame it on Conan instead. He did the right thing by standing up for himself. I can't really say whether or not Zucker did this on purpose but it does make for a foolproof plan to sabotage another show and if the host didn't do anything about it NBC would be in total control to cut/slash whoever they felt "wasn't meeting expectations."

Timmy

January 21, 2010 2:33 AM

So Conan agrees to move the tomorrow show to 12:05. What happens when they want to extend Leno’s show from a half an hour to a full hour? And you know they were going to do it. So then they move the tonight show to 12:30 in order to make more room for Jay Leno’s ego. Conan’s stock plummets and he looks like a chump. But instead of that, Conan takes a stand and tells NBC to go to hell. And you know what? He’s gonna be okay and his staff’s gonna be okay. Because people in this country respect people who stand up for themselves and show that they got b***s; they don’t respect little sniveling weasels who say they are going to retire, and instead of having the b***s to stand up the network that pushed them out, they sabotage someone else’s shot and try to weasel their way back in again.

Timmy

January 21, 2010 2:38 AM

So Conan agrees to move the tomorrow show to 12:05. What happens when they want to extend Leno’s show from a half an hour to a full hour? And you know they were going to do it. So then they move the tonight show to 12:30 in order to make more room for Jay Leno’s ego. Conan’s stock plummets and he looks like a chump. But instead of that, Conan takes a stand and tells NBC to go to hell. And you know what? He’s gonna be okay and his staff’s gonna be okay. Because people in this country respect people who stand up for themselves and show that they got b***s; they don’t respect little sniveling weasels who say they are going to retire, and instead of having the b***s to stand up the network that pushed them out, they sabotage someone else’s shot and try to weasel their way back in again.

samharmon

January 21, 2010 3:02 AM

Back in January of '94, when Conan was floundering and everyone was calling for his cancellation Dave came on his show and was a great guest. He was energetic, funny--willing to lend a guy who was struggling a boost. I hope Conan appears on Dave's show in the coming weeks.

Screw Leno.

Mark

January 21, 2010 3:26 AM

One thing I haven't heard yet since this whole fiasco started - Where did NBC get the "bright" idea to return Leno to 11:35? Was it assumed all along if his soon-to-be-defunct prime-time experiment failed? Any network or show's producer knows that it takes time to build an audience. With TTS, unlike a drama or comedy series, you cannot play "change the schedule." Look at CBS and ABC. Their late-night shows have always, like TTS, started at 11:35. Had Conan accepted the offer, Leno would be starting against all the others - not Conan. Stupid! His staff and crew understand all of this and are behind him 100%

Mark

January 21, 2010 3:27 AM

One thing I haven't heard yet since this whole fiasco started - Where did NBC get the "bright" idea to return Leno to 11:35? Was it assumed all along if his soon-to-be-defunct prime-time experiment failed? Any network or show's producer knows that it takes time to build an audience. With TTS, unlike a drama or comedy series, you cannot play "change the schedule." Look at CBS and ABC. Their late-night shows have always, like TTS, started at 11:35. Had Conan accepted the offer, Leno would be starting against all the others - not Conan. Stupid! His staff and crew understand all of this and are behind him 100%

Param Puneet Singh

January 21, 2010 4:05 AM

Interesting!

Justa Notherguy

January 21, 2010 4:55 AM

For those who are too young - or were too uninterested, at the time - to recall, it might help to get some background on this story. Read all about how Leno acquired The Tonight Show gig, back in 1993.

http://bit.ly/6FjAQq (NY Times; 1994)

Justa Notherguy

January 21, 2010 4:57 AM

For those who are too young - or were too uninterested, at the time - to recall, it might help to get some background on this story. Read all about how Leno acquired The Tonight Show gig, back in 1993.

http://bit.ly/6FjAQq (NY Times; 1994)

JG

January 21, 2010 7:18 PM

Leno is a jag. He is like a bad friend.He is nowhere as funny as Conan or Kimmel.Leno quit, now he wants the gig back after all these people up-rooted familes sold homes, moved kids out of school. 12 million is nothing divided up by all his staff.I am not sure how many people are on his staff but I heard Jay Leno say he had 137 people on his staff.

JG

January 21, 2010 7:18 PM

Leno is a jag. He is like a bad friend.He is nowhere as funny as Conan or Kimmel.Leno quit, now he wants the gig back after all these people up-rooted familes sold homes, moved kids out of school. 12 million is nothing divided up by all his staff.I am not sure how many people are on his staff but I heard Jay Leno say he had 137 people on his staff.

JG

January 21, 2010 7:18 PM

Leno is a jag. He is like a bad friend.He is nowhere as funny as Conan or Kimmel.Leno quit, now he wants the gig back after all these people up-rooted familes sold homes, moved kids out of school. 12 million is nothing divided up by all his staff.I am not sure how many people are on his staff but I heard Jay Leno say he had 137 people on his staff.

Julius

January 21, 2010 8:18 PM

Team Conan hung the staff out to dry. He could have been open minded to moving a mere half-hour and they all would still have jobs, insurance, futures. But he listened to his manager and agents, who advised him to throw a hissy fit and put out that inane statement that implied he was entitled to the Tonight Show at its usual time because he watched Johnny Carson as a kid and dreamed about sitting in his chair. So they get rich (using the usual 15% math, his manager, Gavin Polone, probably gets $4-5 million for 7 months of doing nothing) and the staff and crew get stiffed. This was the CHOICE of Team Conan.

Coco Got Fingered

January 21, 2010 8:18 PM

Forgive me for being cynical, but has anyone been able to find out exactly how much Conan is "adding" to the severance of all of his staffers?


If he was kicking in serious money, wouldn't they have said?

Why isn't anyone paying much attention that all NBC wanted was to delay his show by 30 minutes, to a time slot where his college age antics would find an audience of all-night kids?

Conan decided to leave.. he fired his own staff. And they're getting paid a fortune by NBC for Conan's decision. So if he's going to claim he's kicking in real dough, could we know how much, please?

Is that too much to ask?

RIP COCO

January 23, 2010 12:56 AM

FWIW.... conan is giving his staff 12 million dollars.... id say that is "real dough"

Cathy Iconis

January 23, 2010 12:05 PM

I think a leader is only as good as how true he is to his beliefs. For Conan, he truly believes that the Tonight Show brand would have been hurt by moving and he didn't want to be a part of that. I think he did what he needed to and is a great leader for it.

No one would have respected him if they knew he was compromising his beliefs by staying. It is unfortunate that the staff will be out of work, but I think those that are able to move with him will end up doing better!

OXYGEN

March 28, 2010 9:11 AM

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