Murphy’s Law – When an Arby’s isn’t just an Arby’s

Joel Murphy

Joel Murphy

Imagine you are the manager at an Arby’s.

Your cook has been working there for years and is doing a pretty good job. I mean, the food is nothing to write home about, but this is Arby’s, after all – that’s expected. The important thing is that he’s reliable and the customers seem to be happy.

So a spot opens up working the cash register and you offer it to the guy as a promotion. You aren’t sure if he’s ready for the added responsibility, but you pay him less than the last guy who worked the register and besides, for years you’ve been promising the redheaded guy who cleans the bathroom a chance to get promoted to cook as soon as the position opens up.

So you move the cook up to the cash register, you promote the redheaded janitor to cook and you hire the annoying guy who is always smirking and laughing at his own jokes all the time to clean your toilets. But it turns out to be a complete disaster. The cook is terrible on the cash register. He takes too long to ring up the orders and the customers don’t like him. They all start going to McDonald’s and Burger King for lunch instead.

Now, the redheaded janitor has been working his ass off as a cook, but it doesn’t matter. People aren’t even making it through the old cook to place their orders, so the redheaded janitor never even gets a chance to make food for them. The old cook is ruining everything.

So what do you do?

It’s too late to put things back the way they were. The redheaded janitor has turned out to be a good cook and you know that he’ll just go work at Burger King or Wendy’s if you try to demote him back to cleaning toilets. Besides, the cook working the cash register has a huge chip on his shoulder and refuses to take any blame for the loss in customers. And on top of that, he’s been taking shots at the redheaded janitor for not making as many burgers as he did when he had that gig, even though that’s really his fault as well.

The most logical solution would be to simply fire the guy working the cash register and to bring in someone new to fill that role. You could hire one of those kids from the high school drama department that has been looking for work. Drama kids have historically performed well as cashiers and it would give you a chance to see what your redheaded cook was really capable of with a strong staff in front of him.

But to do that would admit defeat. You would have to come out and admit that the guy you threw all your weight behind, the guy you went bragging to the other Arby’s managers about how great he was going to be as a cashier, has been a huge failure.

So do you simply swallow your pride and do what’s best for the company?

Not if your name is Jeff Zucker. If you are Zucker, instead your solution is to never admit failure, pretend like the former cook was “meeting expectations” as a cashier and to offer the most convoluted fix imaginable. You tell the former cook and the new redheaded cook that they will split the shift – each working half of it. You convince the old cook that he will be doing the company a huge favor, rescuing it from the terrible new redheaded cook who hasn’t been making as many burgers as he used to. And the poor redheaded cook continues to be undermined and humiliated at every step of the way, but hey – at least he isn’t working for Wendy’s, right?

Now, this may blow your mind, but this whole time I haven’t really been talking about a fast food restaurant. This whole Arby’s scenario was really just a metaphor. Now, I’ve been really subtle about the whole thing, but if you reread that whole scenario again very carefully, you will realize that it has all been a cleaver metaphor for NBC’s handling of Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien.

I’m sure you are dealing with a Keyser Söze/Tyler Durden level of mind-blow right now, so I’ll give you a moment to let that all sink in …

Better now?

Okay good.

So what have I been trying to say here (besides the fact that I clearly shouldn’t write these columns while I’m hungry)? I’m trying to say that Jeff Zucker shouldn’t even be hired to run your local Arby’s, so he has really has no business running NBC.

Jay Leno has completely failed at the 10 p.m. timeslot. That failure destroyed the ratings for the 11 o’clock news and gave Conan no lead-in for The Tonight Show. Add that on top of the fact that Conan’s chances for success have been undercut every step of the way by Leno and NBC and it’s no real surprise that he hasn’t succeeded.

Would Conan O’Brien have made a good Tonight Show host if given a real chance to succeed? Honestly, we will never know. It took a while for him to build an audience for Late Night, so there is a chance that if they had really thrown their promotional weight behind him and had kept Leno out of the picture that he could have had similar success with The Tonight Show.

But instead, Leno will move back to 11:30 and Conan will either go on at 12 or will find himself out of a job. It’s a terrible decision in which Leno is rewarded for failure, which sounds about right considering how badly Zucker and company have been running things.

I guess I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that eventually Zucker gets fired and they bring in someone who will right this sinking ship. If not, I’m sure that most people will just continue to head to McDonald’s.

Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at

  1. RachelD January 11, 2010
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