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Posted at 11:50 AM ET, 02/10/2011

Conan tells Fortune: NBC like an 'Indiana Jones' Nazi [Updated]

By Lisa de Moraes

Conan, shown here on his new TBS late night show, thinks he's like Indiana Jones, that time the Nazi threw him through the truck windshield. The Nazi in the movie is NBC. (Meghan Sinclair Photo )

[This blog entry has been updated]

The press has been distracted from the tragedy of Conan O'Brien's treatment at the hands of NBC long enough to write that Jon Stewart beat Conan's TBS late night show by half a million viewers in the ratings last month.

Time for Conan to ratchet up the Pity Party

In the latest issue of Fortune magazine Conan talks - some more - about what NBC did to him.

"In the new issue of Fortune, Conan O'Brien discusses his reinvention from traditional television performer to multimedia star, and contributor Douglas Warshaw reveals new details about the contentious break between O'Brien and NBC," Fortune magazine crowed in an email to the press.

New details and a movie-Nazi metaphor:

"You know that scene in the first 'Indiana Jones' movie where he gets thrown through the truck windshield by a Nazi? I was thrown through the windshield of broadcasting," Conan tells Fortune.

Fortune is owned by Time Warner. So too is TBS, where Conan has his new late night talk show. You and I might wonder why a Time Warner publication would want to remind the press, and America, one more time how Conan is still grieving about being out of the broadcast TV business, instead of wildly enthusiastic about now having a show on Time Warner's cable network TBS.

Conan's Fortune piece comes out at a time when the most recent full week of his TBS show (the week of Jan. 31) set new lows for originals (0.5 rating among 18-49 year old viewers who are the bread and butter of TV, and under 1 million viewers overall). Among the 18-34 year olds who are Conan's sweet spot, the week's crowd of 493,000 is one of his smallest yet for a week of originals.

In an email to the press, Fortune emphasized that in its interview, Conan also complains about being "legally prohibited from going on television" after leaving NBC. Conan was under contract to NBC when he decided to refuse to host "Tonight Show" if the network moved it later into the night to make room for Jay Leno's return to late night TV. NBC "legally prohibited" him from going on television, per terms of his exit deal, for eight months. He also got some money in that exit deal, we've heard.

Conan also compares himself to the Beatles in the article, Fortune noted. And Elvis.

And, on the subject of transforming himself from the "Tonight Show" host to multimedia star -- albeit one who got whomped by Jon Stewart in January -- Conan still sounds so bitter when he tells Fortune that, during his 8-month sentence to being off TV, his people began to hear that NBC was not happy with the things he was saying on Twitter.

Conan tells Fortune he told his peeps to inform NBC: "Tell them I would be thrilled if they shut down my Twitter account. I'd love it if that got out. You think PR's been bad up till now? Wait till you take away my Twitter account."

NBC declined to comment.

By Lisa de Moraes  | February 10, 2011; 11:50 AM ET
Categories:  Conan O'Brien  
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I think one of Conan's friends, like say....Andy, really needs to take him aside for a few minutes and just tell him to let it go. It's enough already. Other than not being in NYC you're in a better place now man. Man up a bit and

Posted by: EricS2 | February 10, 2011 10:17 AM | Report abuse

The article in fortune is not a pity party. If you haven't read it go check it out. The purpose of the article was to show Conan O'Brien and Jeff Ross's outlook on new media and social networking and what it all could mean for their next television show. Then this ”reporter” manages to pull out a few quotes to make Conan look bad. Pathetic.

Posted by: Whaaaaat | February 10, 2011 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Lisa, screw you or your editor for making me read through an article just to learn that "NBC declined to comment" is considered an update and/or response as suggested by "This blog entry has been updated with response from NBC" when you could have done everybody a favor by stating up top "Update: NBC declined to respond." Don't waste my time, bee itch.

And no wonder, NBC declined to respond. Did you even read the article at Fortune, Lisa, or did somebody cherry pick some choice quotes for you? Gawd, I hope somebody poops in your oatmeal tomorrow. No wonder I get so bent out of shape anytime I read something in the media directly. At least bloggers (well, the bloggers I read) are objective in how they go about handling quotes by treating them as if they were still in their original context.

Posted by: fakedude2 | February 10, 2011 3:22 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree with the comment above. Just read the article, and it's almost entirely about social media and the role that digital marketing has played in Conan's brand. I'm a Conan fan so I have some bias, but it seems a little unfair to paint him as a guy who can't shut up about NBC. That's just not true. The quotes about the Beatles and Elvis were especially taken out of context.

Posted by: rebekah03 | February 10, 2011 3:25 PM | Report abuse


It's sad to see the truth get tramped in your quest to be the next Matt Drudge.

Frankly, I'm not on "Team Coco," and I do think he should probably stop complaining about NBC, but to make the point you didn't need to MISREPRESENT WHAT HE SAID.

Are you a "journalist" or did you come from OK! Magazine? Because you should be ashamed of yourself for portraying that article as being primarily about Conan's feelings of betrayal as opposed to his embrace of social media.

Really pathetic.

Posted by: samlang8 | February 10, 2011 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Lisa, enough with the Conan bashing - it seems like twice a month you grind your ax with him.

Please recognize that if your only job is to criticize these creative folks, you will be out of work when you get their shows canceled.

Enough with the vitriol.

Posted by: johnnyonomatopoeia | February 10, 2011 4:02 PM | Report abuse

So if Conan's social media strategy is so great, how come his television numbers are so weak? Millions love him, just not enough to actually watch him? Don't be naive: "digital marketing" doesn't mean squat if it doesn't translate to eyeballs for his show. And I guarantee you, Forbes didn't trick Conan into the NBC talk -- he wants it to keep going.

Posted by: DC2LA | February 10, 2011 6:27 PM | Report abuse

Lisa — I'm the author of the Fortune story...

I have the greatest respect for you—honest—in fact, you just may be my favorite newspaper read and have been for years (and you can ask our mutual friend Tony K. about that), but I think your take on the Conan article is way off the mark, and seems to have come from reading the press release (which I've actually not seen, myself), rather than from reading the article.

First off, and most importantly:

Time Inc. had nothing to do with commissioning this article. I pitched Fortune—and I'm not a Time Inc. employee, nor have I ever been. (In full disclosure, I have done other freelance work for Time Inc. properties but not for close to a decade; oh, and I sold them a photo about five years ago. But I think that's it.)

In short, I had no interest in writing this piece to promote the Conan on behalf of Time Inc., and they didn't publish it for that reason.

My only motivation for writing the piece—outside of getting paid—was that, as a digital strategist who for many years was a television journalist and producer, I find it fascinating that "traditional media" people still don't understand the social media phenomenon...and I found Conan's story particularly fascinating—and fun to tell—because of how he accidentally was thrown into the digital world, and how he and his team have now made a major investment in it.

* As for Conan's bitterness:
Nobody on the show—from Conan to his writers, to his bookers, to his stage manager or the rest of the crew—pissed one drop of bitterness on NBC the entire time I was with them. And I had full access to everybody. (And since I've worked as a producer at NBC at various times since 1989, I've casually known a bunch of the Conan folks, from the producers to the crew, for a long time. So, trust me, they'd have no problem pissing to me, and none of them did, not even off the record.)

* As for Nazi bitterness:
Yeah, Conan made the Harrison Ford fighting the Nazi allusion, but it was far more about feeling like he was thrown through a windshield than it was about a Nazi doing it. That said, my guess is that Conan won't be buying Jeff Zucker a Valentines day card on Monday—still, I don't think Conan has dreams in which Jeff's wearing a little box mustache, like the one Michael Jordan's sporting these days. (What's up with that, anyway?)

* As for Conan comparing himself to the Beatles and Elvis:
It happened while we were talking about the process of performers needing to evolve as technology evolves, and how they need to find their own voice —Conan was comparing the process more than the players. That said, no one gets to host their own late night show without having some ego.

While we may have differences of opinion about how to interpret the Conan quotes, I think most of the above is clear to anyone who has read the full article—whether or not they like Conan the person or the show. (The full article is at :-)

— Douglas Warshaw

Posted by: Douglas-Warshaw | February 11, 2011 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and WashPo web folks... Why don't your comments display the most recent ones up top? (What's up with that?)

Posted by: Douglas-Warshaw | February 11, 2011 6:15 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and WashPo web folks... Why don't your comments display the most recent ones up top? (What's up with that?)

Posted by: Douglas-Warshaw | February 11, 2011 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like Lisa is a Leno fan.

Posted by: renegadefla | February 12, 2011 1:27 AM | Report abuse

If the aim was to Cherry-pick from the original article to fabricate her own version of its contents, then de Moraes certainly accomplished it.

Posted by: dellaferrera | February 12, 2011 9:29 AM | Report abuse

This article could have been helped by comparing Conan's ratings to that of the guy HE replaced - George Lopez - who is funnier by miles.

I'm not even a fan of Lopez - too homophobic, really - but his monologue is funnier than Letterman's, Leno's and Conan's combined.

Of course, it doesn't bother Conan that he replaced the funniest guy in late night - just that he was dumped for the least funny guy on late night.

Posted by: drossi2 | February 12, 2011 10:36 PM | Report abuse

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