Jay Leno returned to TV tonight to reclaim his old "Tonight Show" seat, which he had handed off to Conan O'Brien just nine months ago. The second coming aired only 19 days after NBC pulled the plug on Leno's failed prime time experiment.
The program kicked off to thunderous applause and a pre-taped "Wizard of Oz" spoof in which Leno chanted "there's no place like home."
In his first monologue as the renewed "Tonight Show" host, Leno did not shy away from making light of the acrimony between Leno, O'Brien and the network surrounding the round of late night musical chairs earlier this year.
"It's good to be home," he started. "I'm Jay Leno, your host -- at least for a while."
He also flicked at David Letterman, his chief competition in the 11:35 p.m. slot, and at the only interviewer who put him in the hot seat during NBC's programming turmoil.
"I've got to admit I'm a little nervous," he said. "Not because it's my first night back. Because I know Dave and Oprah are watching."
Leno's return to the "Tonight Show," which he hosted for 17 years, boasted a battery of A-list guests and cameos, including Jamie Foxx, country music star Brad Paisley and Olympic gold medal skier Lindsey Vonn, about whom Leno quipped "when it comes to going downhill, nobody is faster. OK, except NBC."
It remains to be seen if it will be enough for the former late night ratings king to regain the momentum and popular support he may have lost during NBC's programming imbroglio.
NBC announced Jan. 7 its plan to cancel the 10 p.m. "Jay Leno Show" and move it to 11:35 p.m., pushing O'Brien's show to 12:05 a.m.
The move was announced after flagging ratings for the Leno show led NBC affiliates to complain that Leno was a weak lead-in to their local newscasts.
O'Brien's show, which had been on the air since June, also had achieved markedly lower ratings than those of his predecessor, Leno.
O'Brien balked at the proposed switch to a later time slot and blasted the network night after night in his monologue as he negotiated his exit from NBC.
In February, "The Jay Leno Show" ended with minimal fanfare after Leno took a satellite call from Donald Trump who said he had a message from his NBC bosses. He proceded to shout his signature line: "You're fired!"
While Leno returns to his old stomping ground, O'Brien has been navigating his way in a new world: Twitter.
In February, after his ex-bosses at NBC forbid him to return to TV until fall 2010, the ousted "Tonight Show" host set up a Twitter account. Already, he boasts more than 460,000 followers. By comparison, approximately 31,800 people follow Leno's tweets.
Last week, O'Brien threw in a dig at his late night friend-turned-foe. "Good news!," he tweeted Feb. 27, "I can now spend quality time with my vintage '92 Ford Taurus. Bad news -- I left yogurt in the trunk." Leno, of course, is known for his ample collection of vintage vehicles.