Is the Conan O'Brien Backlash Beginning?


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Since Conan O'Brien was forced out of his Tonight Show job earlier this year, he has enjoyed fawning press coverage and near-universal support from fans. The outpouring of sympathy was particularly remarkable considering that while O'Brien left NBC against his will, he did walk away from the network with a $32 million settlement after just six months on the show.

But the Team Coco cheering squad lost a few members Sunday night, when the comedian sat for an interview with 60 Minutes' Steve Kroft. In the interview, O'Brien expressed thinly veiled, characteristically self-deprecating contempt for NBC, and the man who proceeded and succeeded him as Tonight Show host, Jay Leno. Sure, most responses to the show were positive, but a few outlets yawned at O'Brien's victim schtick and said it's time for the comedian to move on.

In a piece titled "Why Conan should not have done '60 Minutes'," The Hollywood Reporter criticized O'Brien for being whiny while others face much worse circumstances:

Sorry, Conan, but the illegal immigrants I heard about in the newsmagazine's first segment who died trying to cross a canal to get into this country had it a tad worse than you.

Gawker's Brian Moylan, on the other hand, dismissed the interview as predictable—"His performance last night wasn't endearing because he said exactly what we thought he would say and didn't look good doing it"—and warned the comedian about the dangers of spending too much time network-bashing.

Moylan points to Rosie O'Donnell, who left ABC's The View after a disagreement with fellow host Barbara Walters and never stopped talking about it, as a cautionary tale:

She's still bitter about the split and is constantly bringing it up, which is why—years later—she's still asked about her fallout with Barbara Walters. Rather than moving on with new projects, she is now defined as "the lady who left The View."

Is this the beginning of a wave of anti-Conan sentiment, or just the rantings of a few frustrated writers? O'Brien's Twitter feed has nearly a million followers, his interview with 60 Minutes gave CBS a healthy ratings bump, and his Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television stand-up tour will hit 30 cities by the time it's through in June. So he probably has nothing to worry about for now. But judging from this burgeoning backlash, Conan might want to be careful about complaining again on national TV any time soon, lest he be remembered as "the gentleman who left The Tonight Show."

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Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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