Conan O'Brien Is Returning to NBC More Than a Decade After His Tumultuous Exit

Conan O'Brien left NBC after hosting 'The Tonight Show' for just six months and then being forced out.


Apr. 4 2024, Published 10:51 a.m. ET

Conan O'Brien appearing on 'The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.'
Source: Getty Images

The history of late night shows is riddled with more drama about who the host should be than you might expect. That's particular true at NBC, where hosting duties for The Tonight Show have changed hands in tumultuous fashion on more than one occasion.

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Conan O'Brien was the most recent host to get caught in NBC's buzzsaw, and he left the network for good in 2010. Now, more than a decade later, he's set to make his return to The Tonight Show, which he once hosted as a guest. Conan's return to the network has left some wondering why he left NBC to begin with. Unfortunately, it's not exactly a happy story for Conan.

Conan O'Brien shirtless with Bruce Willis on 'The Tonight Show.'
Source: Getty Images
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Why did Conan leave NBC?

Conan was a long-time late-night host on NBC. He spent years hosting Late Night, the show that airs after The Tonight Show, after David Letterman was passed over for The Tonight Show and Jay Leno got the job instead. Conan hosted The Late Show from 1993 until 2009, which is when Jay announced that he would be stepping back from The Tonight Show to host another show at NBC, and formally passed the reins over to Conan.

Conan's tenure as the host of The Tonight Show would ultimately last only six months. Ratings for The Tonight Show declined compared to Jay's time hosting the show, and his new show also proved to be a ratings disaster. As a result, NBC eventually announced that Conan would be leaving The Tonight Show and Jay would be returning as host. The decision was made by Jeff Gaspin at NBC and Conan didn't have a say in it.

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Conan went out with a bang, though, and had both Tom Hanks and Steve Carrell on his last show as host. He then performed a soaring rendition of "Free Bird" before leaving The Tonight Show one last time.

Conan eventually landed on TBS, where he hosted Conan, a talk show that seemed to exist in part to give him is own facsimile of what it would have been like to have a longer tenure at The Tonight Show.

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Conan's NBC departure could be water under the bridge.

Although most people believe that Conan was wronged by NBC and that his tenure as the host of The Tonight Show was cut short before its time, it has been a long time since Conan was forced to leave the network.

During his time as the host of The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon has made what seems to be a conscious effort to bring back people who had tumultuous ends with the network.

Conan brought Joan Rivers onto the show in 2014 after she was banned from the network for decades over her decision to stop working as Johnny Carson's backup host on The Tonight Show and to launch her own rival program on Fox instead. Now, Jimmy is doing to same thing for Conan, giving him a chance to promote his new travel show Conan O'Brien Must Go and bury the hatchet at the same time.

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