Jimmy Fallon named next "Late Night" host

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - “Saturday Night Live” veteran Jimmy Fallon was officially named on Monday to take Conan O’Brien’s place on NBC next year when O’Brien succeeds Jay Leno as host of “The Tonight Show.”

Actor Jimmy Fallon is shown with Lorne Michaels (L) and Jeff Zucker (R), President and Chief Executive Officer, NBC Universal, in New York City, May 12, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Haston/NBC Universal, Inc./Handout

The announcement, which had been expected for weeks, was made during a press event from NBC headquarters in New York where O’Brien’s “Late Night” show is taped.

The appointment of Fallon, long considered a leading contender for NBC’s 12:35 a.m. time slot, completes a talent shuffle set in motion when the General Electric Co-owned network announced in 2004 that Leno would retire from “Tonight” in 2009 and that O’Brien would replace him.

“It’s going to be a grind, it’s going to be hard, but I’m going to go at it full force,” the boyish-looking Fallon told reporters on a conference call. “The fact that I’m stepping into David Letterman and Conan O’Brien’s shoes is very exciting.”

Fallon said he also was excited to go back to work for Lorne Michaels, who was his boss as producer of “Saturday Night Live” and whose company co-produces “Late Night.”

Asked how much his new job would pay, Fallon joked, “I keep asking Lorne and he’s telling me not to worry about.

“They’re paying me enough,” he said. “I just want to live comfortably in Dubai.”

Fallon, 33, appeared on “SNL” for six seasons and was co-host of its “Weekend Update” segment. He left the program to focus on making feature films, although such efforts as “Fever Pitch” and “Taxi” fell flat at box offices.

His impending move to “Late Night” stems from a development deal he signed with NBC in early 2007.

Many details of the transition among nighttime TV hosts remain to be worked out, including exactly when the changes will take place.

Like Fallon, O’Brien, 45, 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.

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, 58, is said to be privately unhappy about his planned departure and rival networks are unofficially courting him.

NBC executives say they are still looking at various options for keeping Leno in the network fold, including a possible move to prime-time television.

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Bill Trott