Breaking: Conan O’Brien is better than you

Disney's Imagination Movers In Los Angeles. . . at communicating.

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.

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  • Nice post! Very well written.

    Couldn't agree more with all your points, especially about invoking comedy and precisely recounting the facts.

    Social media is all about perception, which in turn shapes reality much more than reality shapes reality. But in this case perception and reality seem pretty equally aligned…Jay Leno and NBC look like Indian givers and Conan looks like a guy whose taking a moral stance — and the overwhelming majority of the public is on his side.

    Your move, NBC. My advice, Jay had a great run, but “Must See TV” is no longer “must see” if you aren't giving the people want they want to see.

    Btw, anyone else get visions of Kennedy/Nixon debates here. Leno being Nixon and Conan being Kennedy?


  • Not sure if I'd take it as far as Nixon/Kennedy, but I think there's a definite generational gap in their audiences! As a friend of mine asked the other day, who do you know under 50 who's a Leno fan? If NBC wants to stick with an audience that's not (sorry mom and dad) closer to death, they would have thought this through differently.

  • I stopped watching the Tonight Show and won't watch it as long as Conan is there. I disliked him when he followed Leno on the schedule and as far as I'm concerned, he only got worse (if that's possible.)

    His attempts at humor are pathetic, his delivery is childish, and the rest of the material is second rate at best.

  • heatherwhaling

    I absolutely loved his statement. It was spot on — and puts NBC's PR team on the defensive. It'll be interesting to watch this unfold.

    Great post, TJ!


  • I disagree, but that doesn't really matter, you know? It just seems to me that from a business angle, NBC made a misstep here.

  • Thanks, madam! I imagine we'll see a lot of dueling he said-they said statements in the coming days.

  • Very much agree with you. Conan spoke with layman terms and was down to earth. He said more in one release than Jeff Zucker and his crew have said in weeks.

    Bravo, Conan!

  • Such a well written post, TJ. Regardless of anyone's personal opinions of Jay, NBC or Conan, it's pretty clear that NBC got itself into a mess here.

    With that said, and I might be a little biased because I've been a fan of Conan's for a good chunk of my life, I think Conan's statement put him at a total win. You're exactly right– the ball is in NBC's court. Everyone's asking what their next move will be. Conan displayed class and showed how much he truly loves what he does.

    There are a lot of ways that NBC can react to this, and a lot of those ways can put them in a very negative light. We can only wait!


  • JoshSternberg

    Well done, TJ!

  • missmotorcade

    What a fantastic post, Teej! I totally agree – best press release ever. He is extremely persuasive and NBC comes off like they are acting first and thinking later. What a [potential] disaster they have on their hands.

  • The problem with releases sent by companies is that they're all written by a committee and lawyers. Understandable, but come on. It's the tone of Conan's release that makes it. Whether you believe he wrote it solo or with a team of flacks, it came out as a better piece of writing than anything NBC has put together.

  • Imma go ahead and place money that NBC's official response will include the words “unfortunate,” “disappointing,” and “not our intent” but not much else.

  • Thanks, sir!

  • True facts. I don't think there's anything potential about it. No matter what they do now, NBC loses face.

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  • Heath

    Great dissemination of what is going on. I felt Conan is justified to respond, and respond accurately. It was very well composed.

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