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Posted by: Patricia O'Connell on January 19, 2010
It looks like Conan O’Brien isn’t getting a golden parachute, but a golden muzzle. Is it worth it? The (for now) Tonight Show host has gotten a lot of mileage—and improved ratings—out of poking fun at NBC, et al, over the mess about moving the show’s time slot.
And I admit watching Conan skewer his employers and colleague/competitor Jay Leno has been part of the great fun in watching Conan of late. But what will happen when he can’t do that anymore?
It looks like NBC will pay Conan O’Brien $40 million to walk away from The Tonight Show because of Conan’s refusal to move the time of the show to 12:05 am. One of the apparent stipulations of the deal with NBC is that Conan refrain from bad-mouthing the network (and I assume “the network” also means Jay Leno and Jeff Zucker, two favorite O’Brien targets of late). I know I haven’t been alone in being fascinated by this corporate drama/train wreck. And I think part of the reason we’ve enjoyed it so much is there’s been a certain vicarious thrill in watching Conan trash his employer so publicly (and with such biting but still funny humor).
Who hasn’t wanted, on some occasion, to do so? I’ve been pretty lucky in my career. For the most part, I’ve worked for people and companies that were good to me and I respected, and I’ve had lots of great colleagues (and when I didn’t, that was pre-Twitter). But everyone has wanted to stick it to their boss/company at some point, and rail about egregious unfairness, stupid decisions, how badly we’ve been treated, and undeserving colleagues. And for a while there, Conan was venting for all of us. It was fun while it lasted. …
What if Conan were to get $20 million from, say, Fox, and not have to take NBC’s deal along with its muzzle? (Yes, I know, most severance packages contain some proviso that you not trash the company giving you your walking papers. But most of us don’t get humiliated by our employers publicly, either.) Trashing NBC would get old after a while, and would make Conan seem bitter. But it would be fun to know that he just might be able to throw a zinger every so often, when the situation warrants.
So, what's the takeway for people who aren't managing networks or negotiating $40 million severance packages? Treat employees with dignity and fairness. Not an original insight, but still a useful one.
How can you manage smarter? BusinessWeek writers Nanette Byrnes, Patricia O’Connell, Emily Thornton, Matthew Boyle, Michelle Conlin and Diane Brady synthesize insights from the brightest business thinkers, critique the latest management trends, and comment on leaders in the news.