An emotional Conan O’Brien has bid adieu to NBC, saying that walking away from US television’s long-running “The Tonight Show” was the most difficult decision of his life.
At times fighting back tears, O’Brien thanked his legions of fans Friday night for making “a sad situation joyous and inspirational,” urging them to fight cynicism over the ugly public feud that ended his seven-month tenure at the legendary late-night comedy show.
The audience at Universal Studios in Burbank, California replied in kind, giving him a standing ovation and chanting “Conan! Conan! Conan!” repeatedly.
After an experiment placing the funnyman’s predecessor in prime time garnered meager ratings and frustrated the network’s affiliates, NBC television announced it would bring Jay Leno back to the show he hosted for 17 years.
The settlement landed O’Brien a reported 45-million-dollar buyout — with the red-haired comedian pocketing around 32 million and the balance going to his staff — in a bid by NBC to end what has been a public relations disaster.
But during his last monologue for the show, the embattled host even found time to thank NBC, a network he has called home for over 20 years.
“Yes, we have our differences right now and yes, we’re going to go our separate ways,” he went on.
“But this company has been my home for most of my adult life. I am enormously proud of the work we have done together, and I want to thank NBC for making it all possible.”
He also delivered a few last jabs to his NBC paymasters, a practice that had become a nightly staple of his opening monologues ever since the saga broke out into public view.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he announced, “we have exactly one hour to steal every single item in this studio.”
Leno and other comedians at other networks had also used their shows to joke about NBC’s controversial move.
Never one to pass an opportunity for self-deprecating humor, O’Brien told his audience: “I just want to make one thing clear to everyone listening out there right now. I will do nudity.”
Among his guests were actor Tom Hanks, rocker Neil Young, comedian Will Ferrell, and Steve Carell, star of the hit television series “The Office.”
Carell gave O’Brien, 46, an “exit interview.” Asked if we would consider working for NBC again in the future, O’Brien replied: “I don’t know. I can’t say at this time.”
Although he was calling it quits with a show he loved and admired, O’Brien told his fans that “I really feel this should be a happy moment.”
“Every comedian, every comedian dreams of hosting ‘The Tonight Show.’ And for seven months, I got to do it. And I did it my way with people I love. I do not regret one second of anything that we’ve done here,” he added.
“I have had more good fortune than anybody I know. And if our next gig is doing a show in a 7-Eleven parking lot, we will find a way to make it fun.”
The wrangling with NBC went public earlier this month when reports circulated that O’Brien’s show was to be given a new 12:05 am scheduling slot to accommodate a new half-hour program hosted by Leno.
It followed NBC’s decision to cancel Leno’s prime-time show starting at 10 pm after only four months following poor ratings.
However, O’Brien refused to accept the change quietly, accusing NBC in a public letter of attempting to destroy “The Tonight Show” and vowing to quit his long-term deal if the change went ahead.
This video was broadcast by NBC on Friday, Jan. 22, 2010, as snipped by Mediaite.