Conan O'Brien offers a life lesson: Don't believe your own headlines.
What do you think Conan is thinking right now? Do you suppose he has any regrets about his decision a few months ago? That was when he told NBC to take a hike and bolted the network after the suits demanded that he swallow his pride and take a back seat to Jay Leno — yes, again.
For a few weeks, Conan was the hottest commodity in show biz — because he alone had the chutzpah to challenge the great entertainment machine of NBC Universal, not to mention its parent, General Electric.
O'Brien walked away with a reported $40-45 million parting settlement and the promise of a future job somewhere else. For a bit, it seemed as if Conan believed his own publicity — that he was a martyr, that he was the funniest and most misunderstood man on the tube and that he had lost a morality play.
He momentarily forgot that NBC played its hand only when it became convinced that Conan's ratings weren't going to be as strong as those of Leno. For better or worse, NBC made a business move.
Conan ultimately got all that dough not to work — pretty good work if you can get it, eh? But I bet he'd have taken a lot less money in the form of a salary just to do his job.
Now, the news has broken that O'Brien will take the 11 p.m. time slot at TBS, a Time Warner cable channel in case you didn't know what it was right off the bat.
Perhaps Conan, eyeing a much smaller potential audience on cable and the prospect of going up against Jon Stewart and his old pal Leno four nights a week, secretly wishes he had taken NBC's offer.
In Hollywood, there is always a life lesson or another to ponder. Politicians of all stripes gain insights from the movies. This one is simple but worth remembering: Pride goeth before the fall.
The next time some politician tries to use the media to push an agenda, he or she should always remember how fleeting the attention is likely to be. When the media moved on from Conan O'Brien, he was no longer the hottest story around.
It's always dangerous to think you are a victim of a morality play and even more risky to believe your own headlines. Remember that, Mr. and Ms. Politician, the next time you think you're a hot media property. Or give Conan a call.
Jon Friedman writes the Media Web column for MarketWatch. Click here to read his latest column.
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