Conan O’Brien and Memories of a Cancellation

For the past week I’ve been up late, much later than usual, watching Conan O’Brien host his final episodes of The Tonight Show. He’s kept me up in part because he’s my favorite host but also because it reminds me of a time I worked on a radio show that was canceled in January (also after a 6-7 month run), and oddly enough, replaced by the very programming that had preceded it. In the weeks before the cancellation we too were unsure whether it would actually happen. Lots of rumors, deals behind closed doors, uncertainty.

Even as the PR manager for the program, I had no idea which way it would end. When we were finally told the show was going off the air, I had to write the jubilant press release announcing the new line-up. It crushed me. I actually cried. The host, reporters and producers all lost their jobs. They kept me on for another year before terminating my position.

Perhaps the worst part of the situation is realizing how much you bet on the future. Conan moved his entire family, cast and crew to a new city. Similarly, the host of the show I worked on had moved her family from the west coast to the east. But it’s not just physical. Much of it is mental. Security in broadcasting is pretty much nonexistent, but there are some projects that, for whatever reason, take on an air of permanence, and that permeates the minds of those working on it, prompting a sense of security.

I still think about that show and the talented people who worked on it. Some have moved on to positions on other programs, others (like myself) are still hopping from one gig to the next. Sometimes I wonder what we could have accomplished if we’d been given the chance to continue what we started.

My heart goes out to Conan and his crew. I don’t think any of them imagined this would happen. Many of Conan’s guests this week have shared their own job loss stories. Adam Sandler talked about how he and Chris Farley were fired from SNL. Robin Williams said he found out “Mork & Mindy” was canceled after reading it in Variety. I’ve loved hearing these stories. Perhaps because they’re not often told. And also because, they’re trying to make Conan feel better. That’s what friends do when you lose your job. I think there are many of us watching who can relate.

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