Conan O'Brien Returns to 'The Tonight Show' for First Time Since Exiting in 2010

Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Fallon
Todd Owyoung/NBC via Getty Images

The former host sat down with Jimmy Fallon for his first return to the talk show since his bitter NBC departure.

More than 14 years after his turbulent departure as host, Conan O'Brien finally returned to The Tonight Show on Tuesday for a chat with Jimmy Fallon.

O'Brien sat down on the other side of the desk to promote his upcoming travel series, Conan O’Brien Must Go, for MAX, and made his historic return to the iconic show he briefly hosted during an acrimonious public feud and legal battle with both NBC and Jay Leno.

However, there was nothing but love, nostalgia, and support as O'Brien returned to his old stomping grounds to sit across from Fallon, and reminisce 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," said O'Brien, who hosted Late Night with Conan O'Brien for 16 years in the building before moving to LA for his brief Tonight Show tenure.

"All these memories came flooding back to me," O'Brien explained. "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."

"So I walked in and I said, 'Who's in my old studio?' And they said, 'Kelly Clarkson,'" he recalled. "And I love Kelly Clarkson. Who doesn't love Kelly Clarkson? But still I felt like, 'It's not right!"

"It's blasphemy!" O'Brien joked. "They should have burned it to the ground!"

O'Brien -- who now lives and records his podcast in Los Angeles -- also shared the memories that hit him whenever he comes back to the Big Apple.

"When I, in my life now, ride around Manhattan, all I remember is, I remember being, you know, dressed in a loin cloth on that corner, and dunking myself in chicken broth, like, just stupid, idiotic things you get flash memories of," O'Brien said. "And any doctor would say, 'Oh, you're mentally ill, you're going insane.' No, no! These are things I really did."

Toward the end of his sit-down, O'Brien got serious for a moment as he shared his praise for Fallon, and his support for what he's 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."

"Thank you buddy," a moved Fallon replied. "You raised the bar. You raised the bar, and made me work hard."

For those unfamiliar with the drama back in the day, O'Brien took over the helm of The Tonight Show from Leno in 2009. However, NBC tried to keep Leno on the network with The Jay Leno Show, which aired in a primetime slot.

As neither show seemed to excel in the ratings, the network balked, and attempted to push The Tonight Show back to 12:05. Furious and frustrated -- and largely backed by public outcry and fan support -- O'Brien refused, and negotiated a $45 million agreement to walk away from the show in early 2010.

In late 2010, O'Brien signed on with TBS to host the late-night talk show Conan, which aired for 11 seasons before he retired. While he hosts the popular podcast Conan O'Brien Needs a Friend, his new travel series marks his first return to TV since his talk show came to an end in 2021.