Friday, January 22, 2010

Conan O'Brien Makes the Best of a Bad Situation

I'm With COCOImage by stevegarfield via Flickr

I had lunch with a very good friend a few weeks ago and she shared with me a story about her nieces. Both in their tweens, she asked them what they wanted to be when they grow up. They replied, 'Rich.'

"When we were growing up, we said we wanted to be doctors, lawyers and scientists," she went on to explain. "I really think this answer speaks to the sense of entitlement that young people seem to have today."

We went on to discuss where we think this sense of entitlement comes from and much of the conversation was about the media: how commercials encourage all of us, young and old, to be good consumers and how media images set up the expectation that we all should have the same standard of living as the rich people on TV. Working internationally, my friend told me even young people outside the United States share this sense of entitlement as well.

Her comments and the recent hullabaloo over at NBC got me thinking about what kind of example those in the media are setting for young people today. After all, Conan O'Brien appeals to a generation younger than myself--although I do enjoy his style of humor too. For over 17 years, college students stayed up late to watch his show, whether it was Late Night with Conan O'Brien or the recently canceled Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien.

I think what is happening to Conan is horrible. His situation reminds me of all my unpleasant and unsavory dealing with the managers and directors at some of the non-profit organizations where I worked in the past. Social work is a profession susceptible to professional burnout, but for me, I always used to say that it was the decisions of the administration, not the work with the clients, that caused me the greatest grief.

Overall, I believe that the way NBC management handled this situation was deplorable and sets a bad example of how to handle problems in the workplace. But maybe it also teaches those young fans some important lessons about life and work, like:

  • Life is not fair.
  • Your mentor might stab you in the back.
  • Your dream job may not be a dream.
  • Favoritism in the workplace exists.
  • You can do everything right and still not succeed.
  • Sometimes people do not keep their promises.
  • Bad things happen to good people.
I admire how Conan is handling his predicament.

I like that he stood on principle and did not agree to dishonor the tradition of The Tonight Show by allowing it to move into a different time slot. (After all, a 12:05 am start would have technically made it The Today Show with Conan O'Brien.) I commend his action to contribute some of his own money to increase the severance pay being given to his staff. I appreciate his use of humor in dealing with this situation and his attitude of 'Let's have fun with my final few shows.' Keeping things in perspective and downplaying his own situation, he made it a point to mention the devastation in Haiti on every show this week and requested that viewers make donations to the StillerStrong Haiti Relief effort.

Yes, he's made some cracks about NBC during his show, but I honestly do not see his comedy crossing the line into hostile or bitter territory as he continues to do his job until his show is taken off the air. I think he has done a good job of keeping any anger he might feel from tainting his performance on his show. If anything, in my opinion, I see him getting funnier and better at his job as The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien comes to an end.

I know that Conan will be more than well off when he receives his severance pay. Heck, he might not have to ever work again if he chooses. But I hope Conan decides to bounce back and becomes a success once again. I pray he is able to recover from this setback and find another way to pursue his dreams. In the end, the way Conan handles and recovers from this very public fiasco might actually set a good example for his fans of how to deal with adversity in the workplace and in life.

Good luck Conan!

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