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Conan O'Brien: A Liberal with Integrity.

NBC Universal screwed Conan O’Brien.  He had a contract to be the host of the Tonight Show.  Jay Leno, Mr. O’Brien’s predecessor, had a contract to host a prime-time show nightly.  Mr. Leno’s show flopped.  NBC Universal was getting heat from affiliates who were planning to drop The Jay Leno Show and run other programming, in order to build a lead-in for their newscasts.  NBCU cancelled Leno’s show, leaving them open to an agreed $150,000,000 (that’s right, one hundred fifty million dollars) penalty.  They proposed to Mr. Leno to reduce his show to 30 minutes and place it after the local news.  The Tonight Show would be pushed back 30 minutes, to 12:05 the next morning -- literally no longer in "Tonight!"  Mr. O’Brien rejected the NBCU plan as ruining the Tonight Show.  NBCU threatened to fire O’Brien and keep him off-air for the 3 1/2 years left on his contract.  Mr. O’Brien stood firm, knowing that the courts would likely back him and pay him off to the tune of $60 million and let him back on the air immediately.

The controversy shot Mr. O’Brien to high ratings, but NBCU was undeterred.  NBCU aimed to settle with Mr. O’Brien for $30-40 million.  Again, Mr. O’Brien held a tough stance.  Did he want his intellectual property, such as "In the Year 3000" or "The Masturbating Bear?"  No.  He  held out for fair severance for his 200 employees, many of whom had relocated form New York to Los Angeles only seven months earlier.  In the end, Mr. O’Brien settled for $32 million for himself and $13 million for his staff.  Reports also state that Mr. O’Brien: (i) Intends to bring back most or all of these people in a fall show on another network; and (ii) Plans to give a portion of his take to these employees in addition to the NBCU severance.

Mr. O’Brien is liberal.  He has flamed such notables as Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin on air.  However, his behavior toward his employees is completely conservative!  Mr. O’Brien could have fought this out in the courts while his staff collected minuscule unemployment checks.  He could have taken the money and ran.  Instead, he took responsibility for his people, and fought for their interests to the detriment of his own interests.  Then, after Mr. O’Brien had obtained healthy severance for his staff, he then ponied up even more of his own money, even though he has no new show as of yet.

NBCU’s move was a crass money calculation.  Mr. O’Brien’s ratings skyrocketed during this fight.  He has been trouncing David Letterman in every demographic, every night.  His audience is angry and will follow Conan to a new network.  My prediction is that Fox will be most happy to carry "CoCo;"  I will be watching Conan and not Jay Leno.  NBCU did the math.  Put Jay Leno back at tonight and save the difference between his ridiculous $150 million penalty and the $45 million they paid Conan.  I predict that the lost ad revenues from bad ratings will exceed the $105 million that NBCU thinks it saved.  The calculation failed to account for loyalty to Conan.  This controversy has cast Mr. Leno is a villain, perhaps unfairly, perhaps not.

In any event, Conan O’Brien’s classy, responsible and caring response earns him a spot in our Liberals with Integrity section.  Congratulations to Mr. O’Brien for showing the left what true responsibility looks like.