Conan O’Brien Makes Long-Awaited Comeback to ‘The Tonight Show’ after Departing in 2010

Conan O’Brien Makes Historic Return to The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon

More than 14 years after his controversial exit as host, Conan O’Brien finally made his long-awaited return to The Tonight Show on Tuesday for a candid chat with Jimmy Fallon.

O’Brien took a seat on the other side of the desk to promote his upcoming travel series, Conan O’Brien Must Go, for MAX, marking his first appearance on the iconic show since his tumultuous departure accompanied by a public feud and legal battles with NBC and Jay Leno.

Despite the past animosity, O’Brien was greeted with nothing but love, nostalgia, and support as he revisited his old stomping grounds to have a conversation with Fallon about his time in New York and working at 30 Rock.

“It’s weird to come back. It’s weird. I haven’t been in this building for such a long time, and I haven’t been on this floor in forever,” O’Brien expressed, reminiscing about his 16-year tenure hosting Late Night with Conan O’Brien in the building before briefly taking over as host of The Tonight Show and eventually moving to LA.

“All these memories came flooding back to me,” O’Brien shared. “The first thing that will hit you, and it will hit you, too, because one day — you’ll have this show as long as you want it, but when you’re 98, you’ll move on, and someone else will be in this studio. When someone else is in your studio, it feels weird.”

Reflecting on walking into his old studio, O’Brien humorously recalled his surprise finding Kelly Clarkson in his former space. “And I love Kelly Clarkson. Who doesn’t love Kelly Clarkson? But still I felt like, ‘It’s not right!!'” he jokingly protested. “It’s blasphemy! They should have burned it to the ground!”

Living and recording his podcast in Los Angeles, O’Brien also shared the memories that flood back whenever he visits New York City, attributing them to “flash memories” of his time spent in the Big Apple.

As the interview came to a close, O’Brien took a moment to praise Fallon and commend him for the work he has done with The Tonight Show. “I have to say, I’m just very happy for you. I’ve had the honor of meeting every Tonight Show host going back to Steve Allen, and I think what you’ve done with this show is beautiful,” O’Brien said. “You made it your own. You’ve done so much great quality work. And I couldn’t be happier for you, you know? I really am thrilled for you.”

In response, a touched Fallon thanked O’Brien for setting a high standard and inspiring him to work hard to meet it.

For those not familiar with the drama that unfolded back in the day, O’Brien took over as host of The Tonight Show from Leno in 2009. However, as NBC attempted to retain Leno on the network with The Jay Leno Show in a primetime slot, both shows struggled in the ratings, leading to the network’s decision to push The Tonight Show back to 12:05.

Faced with this challenge, O’Brien stood his ground and ultimately walked away from the show with a $45 million agreement in early 2010, before later signing on with TBS to host Conan for 11 successful seasons. His return to television with the travel series Conan O’Brien Must Go marks his first appearance since concluding his talk show in 2021.