'Tonight' quite a night for Brad Paisley when Jay Leno returned

brad-paisley-tonight.jpg Brad Paisley had a unique view of Jay Leno's first night back on "The Tonight Show."

The country star was the first musical guest when Leno returned to NBC's late-night lineup in March, and he tells Zap2it "it was a thrill" to have that slot. He terms the debacle that ultimately saw Conan O'Brien leave "Tonight" -- and NBC -- "such a strange situation for everybody involved. It was unfortunate, and in talking to Jay, he felt bad it went down the way that it did."

Still, Paisley says being on hand that March night "felt historic. When you think about 'The Tonight Show' over the years, you think about Johnny Carson's first night and Jack Paar's before him, then you had Jay take over and then Conan ... who I adore.

"I actually did the show when Conan was the host as well," Paisley adds. "I love him, I think he's great, and I'm glad he's going to be back on TV also." (O'Brien's new TBS weeknight show "Conan" premieres Monday, Nov. 8.)

One moment crystallized Leno's "Tonight" comeback for Paisley: "He has an autograph book that he has everybody who plays the show sign. He brought it backstage and I opened it up, and there was nothing in it. It was an empty book. I became the first name on the first page, and that's when it really hit me how large a thing this was to be a part of. It was really a big honor."

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, the husband of former "According to Jim" co-star Kimberly Williams-Paisley releases his first greatest-hits album ("Hits Alive"), merging studio cuts and live performances.

Then on Wednesday, Nov. 10, Paisley teams with Carrie Underwood for the third consecutive year to host the 44th Annual CMA (Country Music Association) Awards on ABC. He'll be going for his fourth straight win as male vocalist of the year, and he's also nominated for entertainer of the year. That gets him only so far, though, which his "Tonight Show" experience reinforced.

"I took a picture of the new set and asked if it was OK if I Tweeted it, and they said, 'Sure.' Twenty minutes later, a lady came running in and said, 'I'm really sorry. Can you take that down? No one has seen the set yet. We haven't even released it to the media.' For a few minutes, though, you could see it on my Twitter feed. It was wild."

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Photo credits: NBC