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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll have heard about the strange shake-ups at NBC that left their weekday lineup in limbo. Tuesday, Conan O’Brien issued a public response, in effect refusing to move down his Tonight Show to a later time.
Here is the breakdown of why Conan’s statement is the best press release of all time. Pay close attention, flacks.
1. The opening and closing statements. Comedy is his business; he’s a professional and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t use this as an opportunity to remind us (and any party interested in hiring him) that he’s good at this.
2. Humility. By acknowledging that his problems don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, Conan brings us, the American public, onto his side if we weren’t there already.
3. Precise recounting of the facts. It’s a calm, concise recap of how this shake-up happened. This is the framework for explaining his decision in context.
4. Reasons for the decision. Look at him go: a) the importance of the time slot historically, b) the effects the move would have on Jimmy Fallon [see #2], c) a degradation of the franchise. Each of these reasons appeals to a different person. The practical person would see the wisdom in the first; an empathic person, the second; a businesslike person, the third. Everyone can, for different reasons, see Conan’s point.
5. Addressing the opposing arguments before they’re argued. As a techno-geek, I was happy to see that Conan knows people will complain that time slots don’t matter anymore because of streaming TV and DVR. And he refutes it by simply saying he doesn’t agree. And who can argue with that? The man knows his TV better than 99.9% of the population.
6. Swiftly disarming speculation and putting the ball back in NBC’s court. The onus is now completely on NBC. If they don’t figure out a way to keep Conan now, he will walk away a free man, blameless in the eyes of us, the audience. It doesn’t matter if this is a ploy to renegotiate or get a better offer elsewhere. By the end of this statement, the reader’s sympathies lie with Conan.
Who loses here? NBC and Leno, certainly. Their actions come off as both wildly flailing and petulant, respectively. Who wins here? Conan, who appears to be gentlemanly, in good spirits, intelligent, thoughtful, and ultimately likable. If anyone was a fence sitter on this, I can only imagine that reading this would put them firmly on Conan’s side. Maybe you disagree, and in that instance, you may leave a comment describing your reasoning, Mr. Leno. (Love your GT, by the way.)
Now the question is whether pressure from the public will cause NBC to cave, or if the public will follow Conan to another network.