Monday, April 19, 2010

How to turn the kiss of death into Midas touch.

The seemingly sudsy saga of Conan O’Brien is a classic example of sympathetic “positioning”. Positioning, if you care to recall, is the advertising canon (“how to be seen and heard in the overcrowded marketplace”) evangelized by Al Ries and Jack Trout originally between the late sixties and early eighties.

For his much flaunted martyrdom, the underdog in the present scenario has no one else but his erstwhile-mentor-turned-Judas and his own banishment from the idiot box till September 2010 to thank for. It is to O’Brien’s eternal credit that, instead of moping around and shedding copious tears over his tragic exit from the NBC late night line-up, he turned the setback into the “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television” tour. His audacious coup reaped for him a bountiful harvest of support from his loyal fans in the shape of monumental Twittering and the “I’m with Coco” blitz on Facebook.

Meanwhile, he also managed to net the 11.00 pm spot on the TBS cable channel effective November 2001. In the process, the Red Skeleton look-alike (at least that’s how he has made an impression in my memory bank) did unto George Lopez, the incumbent of the said slot at TBS what he had refused to let Leno do to him at NBC and got fired for his effrontery. The far-seeing Lopez in his wisdom saw O’Brien’s stupendous young following as a desirable asset capable of adding an extra zap to the young but limited fan base of his still-in-the-rookie-stage “Lopez Tonight”. Does his ready and willing acceptance of O’Brien reflect his belief that one plus one is greater than one plus zero? Or, is he harking back to the tried and tested logic of Vaudeville and stand-up comedy artistes that the later acts in the evening continuum gain momentum from their predecessors?

Ries and Trout would applaud the O’Brien stratagem and his “NBC and Leno done me in” positioning whole-heartedly, I would think. What’s incredible, creditable and remarkable is that he did it all by subtle indirection: not a single Jay Leno joke, I understand, in his on-the-road comedic routine. This would be a sure way to earn him greater goodwill of and credibility with his loyal fans. As well as respect all round.