Conan Calls It Quits With Gratitude

Conan O'Brien hosted his last "Tonight Show" on NBC on Friday.

ByABC News
January 22, 2010, 8:03 PM

Jan. 23, 2010 — -- Conan has left the building.

Conan O'Brien, the outgoing host of NBC's "Tonight Show," delivered his last monologue for the network Friday night. In a show that was as emotional as funny at times, the red-haired comedian capped a turbulent and ratings-rich week of insulting his now-former employer on the air by expressing gratitude.

"Between my time at 'Saturday Night Live,' 'The Late Night Show' and my brief run here on 'The Tonight Show,' I have worked with NBC for over 20 years," he said.

"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."

O'Brien also thanked his fans, who he said "made a sad situation joyous," urging them not to be cynical about his fallout with NBC.

Of course, he managed to get a few last jabs in as well. "Ladies and gentlemen," he announced, "we have exactly one hour to steal every single item in this studio."

When addressing what will become of the studio NBC built for him, O'Brien speculated that the network could use it as a "storage facility for apology notes to NBC stockholders" or leave it "cold and empty and rename it 'The World's Largest Metaphor for NBC Programming.'"

O'Brien was also typically self-effacing, saying that if HBO were to make a movie about his tiff with NBC, he'd like to be played by "Academy Award-winning actress Tilda Swinton." A side-by-side shot showed an uncanny likeness between the two.

He also added that "as I set off for exciting new career opportunities, I just want to make one thing clear to everyone listening out there: I will do nudity."

O'Brien's guests included comedian Will Ferrell, who was also his first guest as "Tonight Show" host, Neil Young, Tom Hanks and Steve Carell, who conducted an "exit interview" in character as Michael Scott from "The Office." He wound down his last show by singing Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" with Ferrell, Ferrell's pregnant wife Viveca Paulin, Beck, Ben Harper and others.

NBC announced Jan. 7 a 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.

While Leno agreed to move his show, saying he wanted to save the jobs of his 175-person staff, O'Brien balked.

"I sincerely believe that delaying the 'Tonight Show' into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting," O'Brien wrote in a statement released Jan. 12. "'The Tonight Show' at 12:05 simply isn't the 'Tonight Show.'"

In the days that followed, O'Brien and Leno -- not to mention comedians at other networks -- took to the airwaves to joke about the controversial shake-up. O'Brien's bitterly comic jabs at NBC helped double his show's ratings from earlier in the year.