Comedic King Conan O’Brien Returns to NBC’s ‘The Tonight Show’ Stage


Fourteen years have passed since the tumultuous day when Conan O’Brien was abruptly dethroned from the coveted seat of NBC’s “The Tonight Show”. The incident, which paved the way for Jay Leno’s return, was nothing short of a tangled web of emotions that left many in the industry reeling. But lo and behold, the wheel turns full circle, and the irrepressible O’Brien is back!

O’Brien’s return to NBC is set for the April 9 show, where he will engage in a friendly banter with current host Jimmy Fallon, another successor to Jay Leno’s legacy since 2014. The purpose of his return? To drum up some fanfare for his new travel series, “Conan O’Brien Must Go” for Max.

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Cast your mind back to fifteen years ago, when O’Brien was the star of “Late Night with Conan O’Brien”. His popularity led to his ascension to NBC’s late-night flagship show in 2009, as Leno moved to star in his prime-time gig – also on NBC.

However, seven months into O’Brien’s tenure, the “Tonight Show” found itself in murky waters with slipping ratings. This, coupled with the affiliates’ disapproval of Leno’s new show as a weak prelude to their nightly broadcasts, spurred NBC to revise their scheduling. They proposed condensing Leno’s show to half an hour and airing it at 11:35 p.m., pushing “The Tonight Show” to a later slot.

O’Brien, however, was not onboard with the switch. He expressed his disappointment and belief in a statement that, much like his predecessor, he expected ample time and backing from the prime-time schedule. The fallout quickly escalated into a public feud culminating in O’Brien and his team accepting a generous payoff to depart NBC in the early months of 2010.

The charismatic O’Brien, known for his wit and humor, left his audience with the sage advice: “You can do anything you want in life. Unless Jay Leno wants to do it, too.” He declared his stint at “The Tonight Show” the pinnacle of his lifelong dreams during his monologue, just short of his departure.

The small-screen hiatus didn’t hold O’Brien back for too long, landing back into the late-night scene on TBS’s basic-cable network in November of 2010 with “Conan”. The show ran for nearly 11 years, debuting with ratings that surpassed even Leno’s “Tonight Show”.

O’Brien confessed to The Hollywood Reporter in 2012 of a dormant resentment despite acknowledging a once “amazing partnership with NBC”. His comeback to “The Tonight Show”, which moved base from sunny California to the bustling streets of New York under Fallon’s supervision, is yet another testament to the winds of change and Fallon’s diplomatic approach to past feuds.

In his post-television career, O’Brien continues to render his signature charm by hosting a podcast called “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” and his new travel show where he explores countries like Ireland, Thailand, Argentina, and Norway.

The vibe among late-night talk show hosts has undergone a drastic shift from the hyper-competitive era of Leno and David Letterman to an atmosphere of camaraderie and kinship. Last summer bore witness to this shift as Fallon, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, John Oliver, and Jimmy Kimmel came together for a podcast in support of their staff during the writers’ strike. It’s clear that the landscape of late-night television – just like its stars – is ever-evolving.

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Melinda Cochrane is a poet, teacher and fiction author. She is also the editor and publisher of The Inspired Heart, a collection of international writers. Melinda also runs a publishing company, Melinda Cochrane International books for aspiring writers, based out Montreal, Quebec. Her publication credits include: The art of poetic inquiry, (Backalong Books), a novella, Desperate Freedom, (Brian Wrixon Books Canada), and 2 collections of poetry; The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat, (Backalong Books), and She’s an Island Poet, Desperate Freedom was on the bestseller's list for one week, and The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat is one of hope and encouragement for all those living in the social welfare system. She’s been published in online magazines such as, (regular writer for) ‘Life as a Human’, and Shannon Grissom’s magazine.