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Posted at 3:47 PM ET, 05/ 3/2010

Did Conan O'Brien take the high road on '60 Minutes'?

By Jen Chaney

Members of Team CoCo undoubtedly gathered eagerly around their television sets last night to watch Conan O'Brien discuss the Great Late Night Talk Show Debacle of 2010 on "60 Minutes."

If you missed it, you can watch the whole thing here:


Watch CBS News Videos Online

In the Hollywood Reporter, Andrew Wallenstein delivered a scathing assessment of O'Brien's interview performance. "Not since another silence-breaking media event -- the Tiger Woods 'press' conference -- has a public figure backfired so thoroughly in his attempt to try to put the best face on a bad situation (and Conan ain't doing as badly as Tiger)," he wrote. He added: "When you sit down with '60 Minutes,' you're not playing to your fan base; you're retelling your story to the kind of viewers who are more interested in world affairs than showbiz. You're talking to an audience that has the kind of perspective O'Brien so clearly lacks."

I'll admit that I'm exactly the choir to whom Conan is preaching. But even so, I feel like Wallenstein and I were watching two completely different interviews.

I came away from O'Brien's appearance thinking that, once again, he managed to take a higher road than anyone else involved in this admittedly petty situation. He acknowledged that he was hurt by what happened with NBC, as anyone who has been loyal to a company for more than a decade, gets the promotion he was promised and then gets tossed aside -- without so much as a courtesy call from either Jay Leno or NBC CEO Jeff Zucker -- would be.

But he didn't strike me as self-absorbed. When he said he was doing fine, he sounded like someone who recognizes he is, relative to most people, pretty fortunate and is trying to move on with his career. And when he laughed and asked Steve Kroft how, exactly, Jay Leno got screwed over in all this, that just sounded like a man asking the same follow-up question that any non-idiot would ask.

The whole Leno vs. O'Brien feud has served as a remarkable teaching moment. O'Brien was kicked to the curb in the most public way imaginable and yet he has shown all of us who wonder what we'd do in a similar situation that it's possible to not only rise above other people's behavior, but even, potentially, to come out on top.

Before last night's "60 Minutes" interview, I thought Conan O'Brien had class. Afterwards, I felt even more sure of that fact.

Do you agree with me? Share your opinion of O'Brien's "60 Minutes" interview, both in the comments and via the poll below.

By Jen Chaney  | May 3, 2010; 3:47 PM ET
Categories:  Pop Culture, TV  
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Comments

He appeared on "60 Minutes" just in order to clear the air? Maybe he took the "higher road" (compared with Leno), but not exactly the "high road." Come on, Conan did the interview for publicity. There's nothing wrong with that-- most entertainers do it-- but let's not go too far in imparting high motives to him. He trashed Leno, but in a subtle tone. Leno did his trashing with actions. We don't really know what O'Brien would have done-- would he really have turne down a lucrative gig if he'd been in Leno's shoes?

Posted by: Sutter | May 3, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Conan O'Brian looks like the Burger King King.

Posted by: MarylandJ | May 3, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

He came off a little bitter. He only got the Tonight show because he wasn't happy batting clean-up and threatened to jump ship. Now he is off NBC, doesn't have the Tonight Show, and is $32 million richer. He's young and he gets to start again. He was treated poorly but that was a result of his own ambition. I'm on Team Coco, but he dealt his own hand to a certain degree.

Posted by: yellojkt | May 3, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

He looks like Robin Williams making a frowny face.

Posted by: Amelia5 | May 3, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Conan's fall is nobody's fault but Conan's. He got the job NBC promised and blew it, losing half Leno's audience--and first place--in a month, even before Leno's 10 PM show came on the air. It was purely a case of frat boy humor in the wrong place for the wrong audience. Yet he walks away with $30 million and a short blackout before he's back on, and for this, he's complaining! Give us a break, Coco.

Go do your juvenile show to TBS's juvenile audience. It'll be your second shot at dethroning Leno and Letterman. I predict the same results as the first.

Posted by: Jaybird248 | May 3, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

You can't say that Conan was entirely responsible for the lost Tonight Show audience when his lead-in EVERY night was a terrible Jay Leno 10pm talk show. The 11pm local news on New York's NBC affiliate lost 50% of it's audience once Leno took over the 10pm slot, which didn't bode well for Conan at 11:35.

Jay Leno had the Tonight Show and got decent NBC programming like Law & Order as his lead-in. Conan gets the Tonight Show and gets summer repeats followed by a terrible Jay Leno show from Sept-Feb until he's told to give up the timeslot. Jay gets the Tonight Show back and gets the same NBC programming he had before as a lead-in again. Hmmmmm.

Posted by: WalletBoy | May 3, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

What a strange tempest in a teapot. Neither Leno nor Conan is very funny -- Leno is apparently slightly funnier, so gets the ratings. How long should NBC's ratings tank (and the local news following, which is where the pressure came from) before deciding it just wasn't working? It was handled with true Corporate heavy handedness, but surely Conan doesn't think there's such a thing as loyalty with those bozos?? Sounds like Leno was forced out first, yet did it without the accompanying cat fight and whining... .

Posted by: George63 | May 3, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Frankly, both assessments can be true. His being booted from the Tonight Show was purely a business decision based on ratings and comparative contracts, but he was still treated very shabbily by NBC, for whom he generated tons of revenue over the years.

And Jay Leno is a weaselly back-stabbing rat. He did the same thing to David Letterman against the wishes of Johnny Carson, and he did it again to Conan. He is despised in the tight-knit comic community. He will die a lonely and forgotten man, a hack who will barely merit a footnote in comedy history.

Posted by: Pupster | May 3, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Pupster is dead on about Leno. Jay should have forced NBC to give him the $150 mil they owed him rather than take his old job back (at what seems to be a pay cut).

Posted by: yellojkt | May 3, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

I think we should dig up Johnny Carson and just stick him on a set. Even dead he would be funnier than Leno and Conan.

Posted by: scon101 | May 3, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Not even sure why this is news. Shows with bad ratings get the boot all the time and nobody thinks twice about it. And, I'll take $32 mil. and get fired any day. If

Posted by: tomwi53092 | May 3, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

O Brien was backed by the AObama camp and was no longer funny to Americans losing their homes, jobs, and wallets to his lover Obama.

O Biren is not interesting or funny, and too political people are over when they cannot make fun of the people who the public hates.

Posted by: dottydo | May 3, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

People in Conan's corner fail to acknowledge that when he came on the scene, as a relative unknown, he demanded that in 10 years they fire Leno so he could have his time slot. He got what he wanted and he bombed - why blame Leno he was the one he couldn't keep an audience.

Posted by: rlj1 | May 3, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse

O Brien was backed by the AObama camp and was no longer funny to Americans losing their homes, jobs, and wallets to his lover Obama.

O Brien is not interesting or funny, and "too political" people are over when they cannot make fun of the people who the public currently hates.
He was stuck on Bush, so when Bush left, Conan was over.

Posted by: dottydo | May 3, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

No sale, Walletboy. Conan was on the air for months before Leno returned, with the same lead-in Leno had. It's true that NBCs 10 PM programming wasn't working well, but Leno managed to keep his audience even if they were fresh off of CSI on CBS.

Now, with NBC's 10 PM mash-up even worse than before, (i.e. "The Marriage Ref"), Leno has again regained Number One.

With all the problems NBC Prime Time has been having, NBC desperately needed its dependable warhorses, the Today and Tonight Shows, to continue to pay the bills. When Conan dropped the ball, his demotion, or if we didn't accept that, his departure, became inevitable.

Posted by: Jaybird248 | May 3, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Jack in the box has their clown, so Conan should just accept the Burger King king offer and shut up.
It is the only glass slipper that fits the bitter has been.

Posted by: dottydo | May 3, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse

High or low road is not the question. "The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it."-Flannery O'Connor

Posted by: thislittlerose | May 3, 2010 7:00 PM | Report abuse

yellojkt and Pupster have valid points. Particularly regarding ambitiousness on O'Brien's part. if you go back to a timeline, it was Leno who was contemplating whether or not to renew his contract for The Tonight Show. Before any announcement was made, O'Brien had been selected and all that was left was developing the deal. In the deal was a renege clause, a very astute decision given the circumstances. It was the decision which prompted Leno's hand. Right, wrong, good, bad or indifferent, there's a lot of money changing hands unnecessarily, had it be done right from the get go.

Posted by: ewjazzed | May 3, 2010 7:03 PM | Report abuse


When Jay Leno was asked to leave the Tonight Show, at a time when he had a sustaining lead in the ratings, he moved to the earlier time slot without a whimper.

Leno's move to the earlier slot was earlier than his contract with NBC stated. It was supposed to be 5 years from the signing of the contract. However, NBC decided to ask Leno to leave his prime spot earlier.

When Conan's ratings were tanking against Letterman and NBC asked him to take his former time slot to make room for Leno, Conan balked.

I think Conan, who's salary would have remained the same, was selfish and not being a team player. Leno was.

And the fact that Conan whined on 60 Minutes proves all the more how classless Conan behaved.

Posted by: janet8 | May 3, 2010 7:09 PM | Report abuse

He came across as exactly what he is: self absorbed and self-conciously unfunny. NBC got just what it deserved in this deal. They treated Leno shabbily and then watched to no one's surprise but their own as a niche act flopped on a bigger stage.

O'Brien should be laughing all the way to the bank but is out there feeling sorry for himself. His cable show will last 18 months tops. Anyone remember Dennis Miller?

Posted by: tammany | May 3, 2010 7:16 PM | Report abuse

I think Conan did a fine job.

As for his critics on this, I dismiss them as young cynics who want to yell "jumped the shark" just so they can be considered ahead of the crowd.

That group simply comes off as punks.

Posted by: colonelpanic | May 3, 2010 7:28 PM | Report abuse

Jaybird, Conan started in June - his lead-in by that point were repeats and summer filler. If NBC analyzed the ratings to pull him from 12:35, he wouldn't have lasted 7 months there either. Should have given him more of a chance - might have had some nice 20 year organic growth over the long term.

By the way, if Conan actually had been pulling good ratings, what would Jay have done when they pulled him from 10pm? Anchored the evening news? If you're that successful and your company hands you your walking papers, go kick their butts on another network! Don't stand by the front door of the building waiting for other openings.

Posted by: WalletBoy | May 3, 2010 7:36 PM | Report abuse

Couldn't disagree with you more Ms Cheney. I thought that Conan came across as self-righteous and sarcastic. I have never watched an episode of any of his shows so I am not familiar with his persona. However, I was definitely able to see his passive-aggressive cattiness in the 60 Minutes interview. In his situation, the high road would have involved much more maturity and personal responsibility.

Posted by: hlh1 | May 3, 2010 7:38 PM | Report abuse

I think he did great. I don't think he's happy about losing the Tonight Show after 6 months, but I'm not happy about it either.
Not everyone gets his humor but I love it. I thought he was much better than Jay. Jay was alright but now I'll never watch him.
Imagine if Johnny Carson had moved his show to 10 and made Jay compete against it. Its no surprise that both shows had audience share problems when they essentially made two tonight shows. I expected Jay to do something different and new with his 10PM show but it was the same, just Jay's Tonight Show at 10.
Conan took the high road by telling the network execs to stick it. They were already screwing him over by not really letting go of the previous tonight show, then they treat him like some kind of pilot show by giving him just 6 months.
Go Team Coco! See you in November.

Posted by: vintagetele | May 3, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

I've watched Conan off and on for 4-6 years and always thought him to be childish and boring. So much of his humor consisted of making funny faces and childish sounds. There was very little intelligent humor in what he did.

Posted by: MrBethesda | May 3, 2010 8:36 PM | Report abuse

I've watched Conan off and on for 4-6 years and always thought him to be childish and boring.
***
so what kind of life do you have that you've watched him for the last 4-6 years even tho' you don't like his work? does the suggestion 'get a life' have any meaning?

Posted by: frieda406 | May 3, 2010 8:39 PM | Report abuse

Jay Leno is not a funny man. This is an objective fact that has been proven by Science.

Posted by: synk | May 3, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse

You go with your first instincts. Conan has a bitter sense of humor and he makes fun of other people. He is a bully, and not very likable. Sorry, but that's the way it shakes out. He's the type of person who sticks a finger in someone's eye, and then feign's surprise. He's fortunate, wealthy, and a bore. I wish him well, but I hope his national platform to belittle other people shrinks. Go away and enjoy your idiosyncracies and wealth.

Posted by: mradams | May 3, 2010 8:51 PM | Report abuse

A business decision - pay Leno $150,000,000 or O'Brien $32,000,000.

Only in America can someone sulk after being paid $32,000,000.

His rating were awful, Letterman was beating him like a rug and the affiliates were not happy.

It's a business and he seems to have periodic lapses of memory as to that fact.

Posted by: FredCDobbs | May 3, 2010 9:20 PM | Report abuse

I don't care for Conan O'Brien or Jay Leno -- but as I understand it, five years ago O'Brien went after Leno's job and was promised he would get it, even though Leno was still at the top of his game.
Now O'Brien's fans think HE got the short end of the stick. Why, I cannot imagine.
Leno fought for his job and got to keep it -- after it had been handed over to a younger man who was stepping all over Leno's heels in pursuit of his own career.
I think Conan got what he deserved.
Except, of course, for the $30 million.
Anyway, Craig Ferguson is funnier than both O'Brien and Leno together.

Posted by: profwriter | May 3, 2010 9:31 PM | Report abuse

Yo Conan, carm down.

Sorry Jen, but you're off the mark on this one. Granted, I think Jay Leno was never funny in the first place, and Conan O'Brien has a quirky, goofy charm. Before watching this clip, I was Team Coco all the way. But after watching it, I have to say that Andrew Wallenstein is completely right here.

Such GRAVITAS! You'd think we were talking about a deposed pope or overthrow of the world order the way this interview went on and on. Even the beard reeks of poor-me thinking. Who does Conan think he is, Ernest Hemmingway?

Parodies of "On the Road Again" and "I Will Survive"? This is your crack writing team? Were the rights to "Take This Job and Shove It" too costly for you?

Conan, your $32,000,000 could rebuild cities in Haiti for people with no home. You are financially set for life, so enough with the navel gazing. Move on, Red. I have zero sympathy for you. No one likes a sad sack, especially a rich one.

P.S. Steve Kroft is a terrible interviewer. If this represents his typical work, then "60 Minutes" has fallen far -- maybe we should pay off that team as well and bring in either "20/20" or the editor of a high school newspaper with a Flip camera.

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | May 3, 2010 9:54 PM | Report abuse

Did Conan take the high road?!?

Here are the facts & you be the judge:

By every account Jay Leno never once
contemplated the slightest notion of
"retiring" from The Tonight Show. Not
leastwise as he was the Late-Night King!

But Conan O'Briem gave NBC an ultimatum:
Either they gave him The Tonight Show
or he was bolting NBC. For some spectacularly
moronic reason NBC forced Jay Leno out
of HIS Tonight Show and the No.1 ratings
spot just to keep Conan from bolting NBC!!!

As it turns out, things turned out as they
should, and Conan's Tonight show dropped
to dead last in the ratings.

NBC, in all its wisdom, finally came to
grasp it had made a dreadful mistake and
offered Conan his "old spot" back behind
a recalled Jay Leno (in spite of the fact
that Craig Furgeson was beating Conan's
azz). And, well, in all his stupidity, Conan
declined, choosing instead to go up against
the 11 O'Clock news on cable now!

Amazing! In 6 months it'll be hard for most
people to remember who the hell Conan
O'Brien ever was... and good riddance!
Maybe now Conan will finally become what
he was always meant to be: A children's
party clown.

So, did Conan take the high road on
60 Minutes? Tell me where I'm wrong,
first, and, then, tell me Conan O'Brien
is not a self-serving simpleton self-
destined for the ash-heap of television
history.

S D Rodrian

Posted by: sdr1 | May 3, 2010 10:05 PM | Report abuse

Pretty sure Jay Leno wasn't ready to hand over his spot to Conan O' Brian, it was decided by executives, but on the other hand, based on Jay Leno's performance after Johnny Carson, his ratings plumetted for the first 6 months. So did they give Conan the same chance as Leno, no. Do they care about people more than 150 separation contract with Leno...you tell me. Its always about the money baby!

Posted by: motonari1 | May 3, 2010 10:23 PM | Report abuse

Did Conan take the high road?!?

Here are the facts & you be the judge:

By every account Jay Leno never once
contemplated the slightest notion of
"retiring" from The Tonight Show. Not
leastwise as he was the Late-Night King!

But Conan O'Briem gave NBC an ultimatum:
Either they gave him The Tonight Show
or he was bolting NBC. For some spectacularly
moronic reason NBC forced Jay Leno out
of HIS Tonight Show and the No.1 ratings
spot just to keep Conan from bolting NBC!!!

As it turns out, things turned out as they
should, and Conan's Tonight show dropped
to dead last in the ratings.

NBC, in all its wisdom, finally came to
grasp it had made a dreadful mistake and
offered Conan his "old spot" back behind
a recalled Jay Leno (in spite of the fact
that Craig Furgeson was beating Conan's
azz). And, well, in all his stupidity, Conan
declined, choosing instead to go up against
the 11 O'Clock news on cable now!

Amazing! In 6 months it'll be hard for most
people to remember who the hell Conan
O'Brien ever was... and good riddance!
Maybe now Conan will finally become what
he was always meant to be: A children's
party clown.

So, did Conan take the high road on
60 Minutes? Tell me where I'm wrong,
first, and, then, tell me Conan O'Brien
is not a self-serving simpleton self-
destined for the ash-heap of television
history.

S D Rodrian

Posted by: sdr1 | May 3, 2010 10:35 PM | Report abuse

dude, you need to get grip. Its just a show!

Posted by: motonari1 | May 3, 2010 10:38 PM | Report abuse

sdr1: You're wrong. It wasn't Conan who sought to oust Leno from the Tonight Show; it was nervous NBC execs, who sought to keep Conan from bolting to another network during his last contract negotiation. Leno was the past; Conan had better numbers with a younger audience (still did during his Tonight Show period, even if overall numbers weren't as good); and NBC didn't have another heir as Jay's audience was literally dying away. Their initial impulse was business, and with their promises, Conan stayed.

To blame Conan is not knowing the situation. Conan is beloved in the comic community as a stand-up guy, good for his word. That's why so many comics rallied to his side and eviscerated Leno, whom many consider a hack and a weasel.

Read Tom Shales today (though he's another hack) and you'll see that Leno never recovered his numbers, and that his audience is full of old retirees who can stomach his feeble one liners. Now NBC is stuck with him with no ready heir in the wings. The NBC executives, including Jeff Zucker, should be fired. And Leno will die as lonely despised man.

Posted by: Pupster | May 4, 2010 7:11 AM | Report abuse

Geez, Pupster. Your adoration of O'Brian is creepy, if not misbegotten, as is your hatred of Leno. Perhaps you can explain why, if O'Brian,s audience was so young and strong and the "future," he could not entice enough of them to view the Tonight show to keep his ratings from tanking so badly. He supposedly had an established base of viewers and 17 years of experience that should have easily translated into a good Tonight Show audience in six months. Could it be that his real strength was Leno's lead-in? It actually was for me until I discovered the much funnier Craig Furgeson.

As far as Leno's failure during Primetime -- it was almost a foregone conclusion. Primetime is a completely different demographic from latenite, and I can't understand how the people at NBC could be so stupid as to believe otherwise. Also, when Leno took over the Tonight Show from Carson, he was essentially an unknown/untested (as far as nationwide TV) stand-up comedian trying to follow an icon. Of course he initially struggled against the more established and experience Letterman, and had to constantly deal with the threat of being replaced by someone, even Letterman. O'Brian didn't have that excuse.

Posted by: OldRedleg | May 4, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

@OldRedleg
Firstly please spell his name correctly, as well as Craig Ferguson's.

When O'Brien took over for Leno, not only did he have to find a way to entirely change his approach without alienating his Late Night fanbase, he had to establish himself against Letterman who has had great success for years. Leno was already the permanent guest host for the Tonight Show before Carson's retirement so it's not like he was a complete unknown. What O'Brien had to overcome on top of that were Leno's disastrous ratings in prime time.

Also, the younger generation that Conan appeals to isn't one that tends to sit through the local news. We get our news information online, as well as our shows. So to answer the commonly asked question, "where were Conan's fans before?", we were there the whole time. We simply choose to watch our shows through other avenues, ones that don't register on the archaic Nielsen ratings. I watched his shows on such services as Hulu, which posts the late night shows the day after they air.

You've no doubt seen the enormous outpouring of support from Team CoCo. Whether it's readily apparent today or not, it is definitive proof that ratings are no longer exclusively the measure of an artist's success; success for the network is not the same as success for the artist, and with the diversification of media this is becoming more obvious. So we didn't fatten the pockets of NBC. That doesn't matter. With the selling out of his nationwide tour in a matter of days, I think Conan has started to figure out that very fact; I can't get into his head but think that may be one large factor in his decision to move to TBS. Just as the Daily Show and the Colbert Report have unparalleled fanbases, Conan has one around him as well. And that kind of enthusiasm is one that I doubt very many of the other late night hosts can boast today.

On another note, I do like Ferguson as well. I would be very interested in watching the Tonight Show with Craig Ferguson. That has a nice ring to it. One can only dream, right?

Posted by: Daniel89 | May 4, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Daniel89 -- Yow, I apologize for being so sloppy with the names. I normally try to be very accurate but my reply was done on a whim, as I don't even usually read Celebritology. I leave that to my wife, who is an avid "LOST" fan.

I agree that ratings are not a completely true measure of an artist's success, and I am in no way denying O"BRIEN's success. But in the so-called "free TV" world, ratings are the primary measure of a show's success, and O'Brien did not achieve it. The Nielsen ratings may be an archaic system but until all those involved develop and adopt a (hopefully) better system to measure viewing popularity, it is the system that makes or breaks the vast majority of the programs.

Leno may have been the permanent guest host for the Tonight Show but it obviously did not guarantee his appointment as Carson's replacement, nor did his "permanent" status give him the national exposure that O'Brien's numerous years following Leno did. When Leno took over the Tonight Show, he was still a relatively unknown to the nation and as such, he still had to compete against a very battle-hardened (and obviously angry) Letterman.

I will admit that I am not really a fan of O'Brien and I think that (to me) most of his humor is of the "frat-boy" genre, which I didn't like even when I was in college. However, watching his interview, I was really generally sympathetic/empathetic (whichever feeling is most appropriate) until his rather snarky retort about Leno getting screwed. That one remark essentially said it all. He didn't care about Leno or how Leno was forced out of his #1 rated show. All he cared about was himself. I know O'Brien can be a very generous person to others, as evidenced by his concern about his staff, but he showed his own cold, calculating ambition by forcing NBC to choose between Leno or himself. NBC tried to be cute (and greedy) and keep the best of both worlds, and really screwed the pooch.

O'Brien failed in his time slot, despite all his so-called support from Team CoCo. they weren't there for him where it counted, and unfortunately, Hulu and other on-line viewing don't really count in this particular over-corporated world. If you read the reports, Leno's prime-time show was actually treading water, not sinking quite yet, but it was the local stations that were getting ready to pre-empt his show because they had no lead in to their local news and the advertising dollars it brings.

O'Brien will probably succeed on TBS, if his fans are really as dedicated as they claim. I wish him luck and good fortune.

Posted by: OldRedleg | May 4, 2010 11:05 PM | Report abuse

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