LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - “Saturday Night Live” veteran Jimmy Fallon will take Conan O’Brien’s place on NBC next year when O’Brien succeeds Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show, a person familiar with the deal said on Thursday.
The two leading showbiz trade magazines, Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, both reported that a formal announcement of plans to install Fallon in O’Brien’s place as host of NBC’s “Late Night” show would likely come next month.
Fallon, long considered a leading contender for the 12:35 a.m. slot, will complete an NBC talent shuffle set in motion when the network announced in 2004 that Leno would retire from “Tonight” in 2009 and that O’Brien would replace him.
Fallon’s publicist had no comment. Nor did NBC, the flagship broadcast company of the General Electric Co-controlled NBC Universal.
But network executive Rick Ludwin said last year that the former “Saturday Night Live” writer-performer was a front-runner to succeed O’Brien.
Fallon, 33, appeared on “SNL” for six seasons and co-hosted its “Weekend Update” segment. He left the show to focus on making features, although such efforts as “Fever Pitch” and “Taxi” fell flat at the box office.
His impending move to “Late Night” stems from a development deal he signed with NBC in early 2007.
It was not clear whether he would move into O’Brien’s New York studio, which will become vacant when O’Brien moves to Los Angeles to take over the 11:35 p.m. slot.
Like Fallon, O’Brien cut his comedy-writing teeth on “Saturday Night Live” before landing the “Late Night” job, but he had far less on-screen time than Fallon. “SNL” is produced by Lorne Michaels, whose company co-produces “Late Night.”
O’Brien made his “Late Night” debut in 1993 after the original host of the franchise, David Letterman, jumped to CBS to go head-to-head against Leno, following Johnny Carson’s retirement from “The Tonight Show” a year earlier.
Leno is said to be privately unhappy about his planned departure, and rival networks are quietly, unofficially courting him with offers to come work for them once his NBC contract is up.
However, NBC executives have said they are looking at various options for keeping Leno in the network fold, including a possible move to prime-time television.
Editing by Dean Goodman and Eric Walsh