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Conan O’Brien and the $30 million payout

January 17, 2010

I am not an America. I am not living there either. But in today’s digital age and in the age of satellite communication, the world is shrinking fast. Sitting here in Bangalore, I get to watch The Tonight Show on one of the Indian channels of the Zee Network. I always liked Jay Leno. His performances were seamless and his sense of humor was good. He is a natural. He is so at ease with himself and makes those he interviews at ease too. His questions flow automatically and his standup comedy, or the one liners at the beginning of the show are drop-dead gorgeous. In fact the best part of the Jay Leno show is the first one when he talks about the latest happening s around the world (the American world, which is The World) and some of his comments are rib tickling.

I have no personal grudges against Conan O’Brien and the 6feet 4inches tall American may be liked by some. But he reminds me of plastic every time I watch his show. He is so artificial and many of his jokes fall flat and one can almost hear a prompter pressing on the laughter button. He has little sense of humor and some of his so called comic takes are what a five year old would scoff at. Not only that, the man is a bad interviewer and many a times his questions are long and dreary which elicit no more than a yes or no from the person he is interviewing. His one interview with a young, successful jockey was so bad, the boy all of nineteen hardly spoke. Obviously, the young man had done something extraordinary to have been invited on the show, all I remember was a photo of the jockey with his girlfriend who was twice as tall as him, being made the butt of the joke by O’Brien and that was the end of the interview. Conan O’Brien should have been asked to reshoot the whole interview by the director/producer of the show if they had any sensibility. If the show goes live in the US it should have been deferred live, as one would expect Conan O’Brien to do something stupid all along. O’Brien obviously thought he had nailed the man – the fact is that he showed himself in such poor light that viewers like me wanted to hide behind the sofa.

Contrast that with how Jay Leno conducts the show and the difference is for all to see. The art is to try and reach out to the other person. The other fundamental requirement when interviewing someone is to be genuinely interested in the other person. Jay Leno has the art of reaching out and many of his guests are people who have been on his show more than once, that is the kind of rapport he has with most of his guests. I will not be surprised if most of them call back and thank him for being so good to them and also telling him how much they enjoyed being on his show. I would be surprised if anyone calls O’Brien in the same vein. The man is a creep and so full of himself and how he is doing that he forgets there is a guest in front of him. Oprah Winfrey and Larry King are some others who really know how to interview a guest. Oprah however, was a bit snobbish when she interviewed Michael Jackson and one could see that she had made up her mind about Michael even before the interview started, but she can be forgiven for that. The media blitz against the man at that time was such that one can understand her lack of patience with Michael. Larry King has the patience of Job and one of his best interviews was with George Bush Sr. and his wife Barbara. One could see that they knew each other well, but the kind of respect Larry King showed the Bush’s was exemplary. He was all ears and his questions were short, crisp and knowledgeable. Contrast this with what O’ Brien does and it leaves even the viewers embarrassed.

I know that the American TV networks have cut throat competition and it is also clear that Jay Leno could not stand the heat of prime time viewing. His employers, the NBC found that they were slipping on viewership during prime time. This can be suicidal in a country that has market economics as the God that decides as to who stays and who is shown the door. NBC realize that Jay Leno is an asset that they cannot set aside. He is way too talented and has a following that cannot be ignored. I am surprised they gave O’Brien a three year contract and now after a few months they are in a situation where they have to ask him to go back to late night or get out altogether. What further confounds the chaos is the fact that the clumsy Mr. Conan O’Brien is being offered a cool $30 million to leave!!! That is the kind of money one gets for a hashed up job. Shudder to think, as to what he would have asked for if he had done even a passable job on his show!!! NBC should be suing the man for a job badly done, taking them down and being a drain on their revenues – instead they are paying the man tens of millions to get his butt out!! Have you heard of anyone getting paid for messing up so completely and so thoroughly? In America, anything is possible. They can make an ass a star. There was one – his name is Conan O’Brien.

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