Why Conan O'Brien Avoided Talking About That Tonight Show Mess For Awhile

Conan O' Brien Conan TBS

Conan O'Brien has seen and experienced a lot in his decades in late night TV, and as he prepares for some major changes coming to his current TBS show, the Conan host is opening up about the situation that led him to TBS in the first place. O'Brien spoke up about his short and unsweet stint on The Tonight Show, and why he mostly avoided addressing the controversy that sparked his NBC removal at the time it was happening:

All I can say is that I was discombobulated by the whole thing. I remember at the time thinking that when Dave [Letterman] had his thing with Jay Leno, he was allowed to keep making jokes about it for five years. And when we made jokes about my situation, people interpreted it as real rage. That surprised me. When I saw that people were taking the jokes as my real feelings, I decided, 'Let's just not talk about this at all.'

Conan O'Brien compared his controversy to The Tonight Show's previous Battle of the Hosts that went down between David Letterman and Jay Leno, which occurred when Johnny Carson retired. Leno, of course, ended up getting the job, which caused Letterman to jump ship from Late Night to CBS' The Late Show, where he served as Leno's rival for years. There was obviously some bad blood between Letterman and NBC for what had happened, but despite all that, people still reacted to Letterman's jokes and comments with laughter and mirth. While O'Brien thought he'd get the same reaction, he told Vulture he received much more serious reactions when making disparaging jokes regarding NBC taking him out to bring Leno back. Those reactions ultimately drove Conan to abstain from talking about the situation altogether, perhaps in an attempt not to have his feelings misinterpreted, as well as not wanting to cause more drama.

Today, Conan O'Brien is seemingly at peace with his removal as host of The Tonight Show, saying he decided a long time ago he wasn't going to waste time being angry over it. That said, the Conan host did say there were a few people in that fracas who he felt were just not "good human beings," although no specific names were mentioned. Those people's actions, combined with the loss of The Tonight Show, definitely did impact O'Brien at the time, and he said the experience messed with his psyche for a bit:

I had some PTSD for a while, because I always took my job seriously and tried to be an honorable person, and then to have that outcome with The Tonight Show confused the shit out of me. Then you realize, 'Oh, everybody has bad work situations.' You move on. I'm much happier now than I was in 2010 and 2011.

Indeed, Conan O'Brien is pretty happy these days, despite the recent news that his show Conan would be getting knocked down from an hour to 30 minutes. The host maintained the decision was made to revolutionize the late-night formula rather than an effort by the network to lessen his screen time, and says they'll be filming just as much as they did before, only with some of the material being exclusive for the TeamCoco website. As such, O'Brien doesn't appear to be headed down any other controversial roads akin to his The Tonight Show debacle anytime soon, and he remains passionate about his work in late-night.

Conan airs on TBS every weeknight at 11:00 p.m. ET. For a look at new and upcoming television programming coming out in the next couple of months, head on over to our summer premiere guide.

Mick Joest
Content Producer

Mick likes good television, but also reality television. He grew up on Star Wars, DC, Marvel, and pro wrestling and loves to discuss and dissect most of it. He’s been writing online for over a decade and never dreamed he’d be in the position he is today.