By Scott Brown
Updated August 28, 2006 at 12:00 PM EDT

Did you laugh? Or cringe? It might depend on where you live. Either way, Conan’s opening Emmy sketch — in which his L.A.-bound flight crash-lands on a Lost-like island — is kicking up dust. In Kentucky, where, earlier Sunday, a Comair regional jet had crashed, killing all but one aboard, the skit read as ghoulish, albeit circumstantial irony. The local broadcaster wants an apology from NBC.

Do they owe him one? Yes, NBC could have responded to the news unfolding in real time and axed the sketch — but not without throwing the live Emmycast into significant confusion and perhaps necessitating a statement from the host. (This isn’t SNL, where the format is designed for last-minute omissions and substitutions.)

Of course, none of that matters in an urgent situation requiring the heroic utmost in taste and sensitivity: Conan could simply have come on stage and called for a moment of silence, I suppose. My question is… was this such a situation? For the families of the victims, the answer is an unequivocal yes. But the same could be said of those involved in a fatal car pileup — do networks watch the wires for news of an automobile tragedy, and adjust their programming accordingly? No. There’d be nothing left on television.

Life gives us many grim juxtapositions, many cruel ironies, on screen and off. This is one of them. But I wouldn’t assign blame to the network. My guess is, anyone intimately involved in the Kentucky air tragedy wasn’t watching the Emmycast anyway. Viewers troubled by the images they saw had every right to be troubled and, of course, every right not to watch. But I don’t think there’s any wrongdoing here — only rotten, ugly chance.

Feel free to correct me below.