NBC canned Conan, but Twitter Tracker lives on at the Olympics
Remember when right in the heart of Late Night Wars II: Jay vs. Conan, NBC’s Dick Ebersol trashed O’Brien in the New York Times? Ebersol is “chairman” of NBC Universal Sports. “What this is really all about is an astounding failure by Conan,” he said. At the time, Conan also took some shots at Leno in his monlogues that were hilarious and in astoundingly good taste for someone going through such a public betrayal and dumping. What did Ebersol said of Conan’s Leno jokes? It was, “chicken-hearted and gutless to blame a guy you couldn’t beat in the ratings.” Oh, that sloshing sound you hear in the background? It’s just Jeff Zucker’s water being carried.
By the way, what is it called then, Dick, when you steal the ideas of a guy you fired? Conan had a pretty funny bit called “Twitter Tracker,” a sort of death-metal voice-over recap of some very bland celebrity Tweets, unworthy of the attention bestowed on them. It was a wry commentary about celebrity, probably eight levels above Ebersol’s head. It was also one of many of Conan’s late night ideas that Ebersol probably found out of touch with the great swaths of middle America that Jay Leno so resonates with.
Yet Ebersol’s NBC Sports have taken the same idea and made it a featured (and serious) part of their Olympics website. The complete lack of humor behind the Olympics Twitter Tracker would normally be an indication that Ebersol was behind it. But, chances are this was actually a low grade decision by an NBC employee– perhaps one with a secret allegiance to Conan? So yes, I know Ebersol wasn’t thinking about Conan’s Twitter Tracker when they unveiled the Olympics one, but the lazyness of not finding another name for the feature that didn’t directly stem from Conan’s joke speaks to the disdain for which the redheaded one probably had to deal with from NBC brass who never understood his brand of humor.
In Conan’s Tonight Show glory days, Twitter Tracker even had its own Twitter account and website. The account has since gone dormant and the website sadly redirects to NBC.com, from where all traces of O’Brien have been scrubbed as if he was a Soviet commissar.
NPR talked about the Olympics’ Twitter Tracker’s “strange poetry,” but I think the feature is more like a karmic payback. Twitter tracker (by the way, I know it’s a bit that NBC owns of course, so it’s not really “stolen” as I wrote above) is one of the skits that NBC thought wasn’t helping Conan connect with his audience. Conan earned a $35 million buyout and a shot at new, friendly network home, thanks in part to that skit.
One of his favorite things to rib NBC about once he was an outs was that Ebersol’s Olympics are estimated to be costing NBC $250 million in losses. He never went directly after Ebersol, but after the pasting he received at his hands in the press, you have a feeling he wouldn’t have minded if someone else made the connection. Meanwhile, Ebersol, having disposed of Team Coco, is infuriating sports fans everywhere by tape delaying an Olympics happening on North American soil, simply to goose primetime ratings. Twitter track that, Dick.