Conan O'Brien Returns to 'The Tonight Show' 14 Years After Controversial Departure

Conan O'Brien's enduring journey back to late-night TV spotlight

by Zain ul Abedin
Conan O'Brien Returns to 'The Tonight Show' 14 Years After Controversial Departure
© Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

In a twist that intertwines nostalgia with new beginnings, Conan O'Brien is set to grace "The Tonight Show" with his presence, marking a significant return 14 years after his contentious departure from NBC. This momentous occasion is slated for April 9, as O'Brien steps onto the stage, not as the host, but as a guest, in a heartwarming chat with Jimmy Fallon.

The purpose of his visit? To shed light on his latest venture, "Conan O'Brien Must Go," a travel series poised to captivate audiences on Max. The backstory to this return is rich with television history and dramatic shifts.

O'Brien, who had helmed "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" for over 15 years, was handed the reins of "The Tonight Show" in 2009, a transition that was as prestigious as it was tumultuous. This move came as Jay Leno was transitioned to a prime-time slot, only for the network to reconsider months later due to slipping ratings and affiliate pressures.

NBC's proposal to push "The Tonight Show" to a later slot led to O'Brien's departure, but not without leaving a poignant message about the unpredictable nature of the entertainment industry.

O'Brien's Resilient Comeback

Despite the upheaval, O'Brien's career was far from over.

He soon made a comeback on TBS with "Conan," which not only marked nearly 11 years of success but also initially outperformed Leno's "Tonight Show" in ratings. His journey reflects a saga of resilience, a theme that resonates deeply with both the industry insiders and the general public.

O'Brien's return to "The Tonight Show," now under Fallon's stewardship and relocated to New York, carries a symbolism that extends beyond personal achievement. It underscores the evolution of late-night television from a fiercely competitive arena to one of camaraderie and mutual support among hosts.

Fallon's tenure has seen gestures of reconciliation and unity, as demonstrated by Joan Rivers' posthumous return and the collective efforts of late-night hosts during the writers' strike with the "Strike Force Five" podcast.

As O'Brien steps back into the limelight, this time on Fallon's stage, the event is more than a mere promotional appearance. It's a full-circle moment that highlights the changes within the late-night landscape, celebrating the enduring spirit of one of television's most beloved figures.

With his new series and ongoing podcast, "Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend," O'Brien continues to explore new horizons, leaving an indelible mark on the world of entertainment.