What We Had Here...


NBC has apologized, as it should have, for the "inadvertent pain" it caused by airing a parody of Lost that included an intense few seconds of a plane crash on the same day a horrific plane crash took 49 lives.

It could have dropped the Emmy-opening skit, in which host Conan O'Brien was dropped into several shows–Lost, House, The Office–but it was a really funny skit otherwise, so it would have been better to just edit it down, maybe throw in a new 10 seconds of Conan doing stand-up on the Love Boat (a nod to Aaron Spelling, who was saluted in the Emmys) when a cry is heard: "Iceberg ahead." There is a lurch and he says: "Anybody need more ice in their drink." Cut to the island on Lost and pick up the skit from there.

That's what I would have done in the lap of hindsight's luxury, with O'Brien and a ship set around in the bargain. I wasn't running around like a peripatetic peacock trying to put on a live show and get off by 11.

They were, and, sadly, nobody connected the dots from what started out as sounding like "a commuter plane goes down," which occasionally happens, to the 49 people horribly killed, which is a bigger story–the biggest U.S. plane crash in five years or so. But as the GM of a Kentucky station too close to the tragedy for comfort pointed out, it was NBC's job to connect the dots.

In TV and at newspapers, when there is a plane crash, the news department historically gets on the line with sales immediately to warn them to pull airline ads out of the newscast for the sake both of buyers and viewers.

What we had here, to paraphrase Struther Martin, was a failure to communicate.

In this case, nobody apparently thought to warn the entertainment side that they might have a problem. Nobody on the entertainment side made the connection without getting that call, and, since nobody made the connection, nobody let the affiliates know that they could be jumping from a news cut-in on the crash to a skit that began with a white-knuckle scene of O'Brien's plane going down.

If I were affiliates, I would say: "Apology accepted," but add, in the words of Michael Conrad, "Let's be careful out there." Better communications. Why are big communications companies, who are great at communicating news to others, often not so good at talking to themselves?

By John Eggerton