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It's Official: Jimmy Fallon to Replace Conan O'Brien on 'Late Night'

By Lisa de Moraes
Tuesday, May 13, 2008

NEW YORK, May 16

NBC suits, looking for something big to announce on their traditional first day of Broadcast TV Upfront Week -- other than that Christian Slater will be compelled to drive only GM cars in his new NBC series, "My Own Worst Enemy," plus a reality series from Ryan Seacrest about "Momma's Boys" -- finally, officially, announced the worst-kept secret in months: Jimmy Fallon has been tapped to replace Conan O'Brien as only the third host of "Late Night."

O'Brien, of course, is taking over as host of "Tonight" next year, whether current host Jay Leno likes it or not. Which he does not.

As is usual with news conferences of this kind, NBC executives and the star of the show went to great lengths to say nothing.

NBC suits declined to discuss the length of Fallon's contract or when they hope to launch the Fallon-hosted version of "Late Night."

"We have no idea," NBC co-president in charge of programming Ben Silverman told one reporter, who seemed skeptical.

"I keep asking [executive producer Lorne Michaels] about it and he keeps telling me not to worry about it. I just want to live comfortably -- in Dubai," Fallon told reporters, in re his salary.

"I have the same contract as Willard Scott does -- 150 years," Fallon said, when one reporter asked, which is an understandable question, given Conan suffered through years of 13-week-long contracts early in his "Late Night" hosting career.

Michaels said the transition probably would happen sometime in the first six months of '09. "Or possibly the second six months," he added.

The transition schedule is something of an unknown, he said, because they are still talking to Leno to try to find a way to keep him at NBC.

That's right, make it Leno's fault.

Leno has dominated late-night TV since surpassing CBS's "Late Show With David Letterman" in the ratings in '95. But that did not stop NBC from deciding in '04 to sign a deal with Conan, agreeing to give him the coveted show in '09, to keep him from going elsewhere when his contract came up. NBC hopes Conan will take his young male audience -- the hot blond chicks of late-night TV -- with him.

Silverman allowed as how it's going to be tough to find something Leno wants to do at NBC -- other than continue to host "Tonight," of course.

Here's some big news: Lorne Michaels thinks it will be easier to transition from Conan to Fallon in the 12:30 time slot than it had been to transition from Letterman to Conan, because Conan was an unknown mostly writer, whereas Fallon is a former cast member of "Saturday Night Live" who's done flicks.

"With movies, you kind of work for six months and then it takes another six months to release the movie and then people go, 'That's not that good,' " Fallon said. "With live TV and 'Saturday Night Live,' it's an immediate reaction. You find out if a joke stinks immediately. . . . There is no chance to get depressed and apply for 'Celebrity Rehab.' "

Among the things not revealed during Monday's news conference: any format changes to the show under Fallon, who patiently explained he will have a lot of time to think about it. "I'm not going to reinvent the wheel . . . there's no need to," he said, though he made a shocking revelation that "I just have to do my own show."

Michaels went one better and disclosed the show's first day with Fallon as host probably would be heavily planned out and the second day would be a reaction to what had worked on the first day, and so on, and so on, until zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Oh sorry. Dozed off for a minute.

Anyway, Fallon said in so many words this was a dream come true for him, explaining that in his kindergarten yearbook someone had written under his picture "Most Likely to Succeed David Letterman."

"My principal was Nostradamus," Fallon explained.

One dubious reporter wanted to know what kindergarten had yearbooks, much less students thinking about late-night TV hosting possibilities.

Fallon said the school was located in a magical kingdom and the class taught by a unicorn. "It's the eighth hour of 'Today Show,' " he added, which got some chuckles.

Then he said the school was called St. Mary of the Snow, in Saugerties, N.Y., which though true, ironically got a bigger laugh.

Fallon insisted he's fully committed to the gig, and is ready to emulate Leno, doing weekend stand-up gigs and baby kissing and otherwise having no life outside his late-night career and the promotion thereof. Because that has worked out so well for Leno, who is being shown the door of "Tonight" next year, in case you missed that.

Michaels says Fallon was an easy choice for the gig because he is hardworking, funny and "plays well with others."

"You can't do this job unless it's all you want," Michaels said.

Fallon told reporters his wife had left him a note Monday morning that read "Nice knowing you."

* * *

In lieu of a traditional upfront presentation in which the network's programming chief walks through the fall schedule for advertisers while stars of returning prime-time shows sing and dance, NBC this year unveiled its schedule in April, and following its Jimmy Fallon news conference Monday staged what it called "The NBC Universal Experience" at 30 Rock.

A sort of petting zoo for advertisers, TNBCUE featured NBC Universal Chairman and CEO Jeff Zucker and Tina Fey, who is this close to becoming a cultural icon, chatting about how advertisers can find everything they want, or need, at NBC Universal; NBC News's Ann Curry and Meredith Vieira interviewing advertisers about how happy they are that they can find anything they need at NBC Universal; American Gladiators jousting; Chris Matthews doing his show; and NBC Sports on-air talent handing out signed footballs, among other attractions.

NBC announced it will use the Summer Olympics to launch a reality series in which some "complacent" guys let their mothers pick out their prospective wives. Called "Momma's Boys," it's being executive-produced by "American Idol" host-entrepreneur Ryan Seacrest who, Silverman told reporters, is a momma's boy.

And, did not the gravity of the situation forbid it, I have at least three priceless cracks I could make.

In the series, guys whose umbilical cords are still attached to Mom ask her to pick out their prospective brides from among the "nice" girls and girls "who might not be as appealing to the mothers."

"Some of these guys may be a little too close to their moms," Seacrest told trade paper Variety, which was given the scoop on the series. Silverman also got on the phone to confirm for Variety that both Seacrest and he are "momma's boys" and "proud of it," adding, "That's probably why we're both single in our mid-30s." Once again, we think what might have been, had Silverman been onstage at Radio City Music Hall, making this revelation to thousands of advertisers, station execs and reporters.

"Every decision I make, there's a voice in my head -- it's my mother judging me, like a judge on a talent show, " Seacrest said.

* * *

Meanwhile, Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson are out as executive producers of NBC's new midseason "The Philanthropist," which is now being described as about a renegade billionaire who helps the needy all around the world, though we thought the earlier description of "hedonistic" billionaire sounded much more interesting.

Silverman told The TV Column NBC wanted the show to be light and aspirational, while Fontana was making a much darker drama. And, they wanted to shoot it in Los Angeles, where it's easier and cheaper to fake scenes set in other countries.

* * *

In other important NBC new-schedule news, GM will become the exclusive "automotive integration partner" for new fall drama "My Own Worst Enemy."

Poor Christian Slater will have to drive GM vehicles incessantly as the mild-mannered suburban milquetoast who discovers he's also a super spy trained to kill with his teeth because, NBC says, the show will "prominently" feature two GM cars, one for each of the personalities of Slater's character. We're thinking, daytime Saturn driver, nighttime lethal-toothed Humvee driver.

A GM rep waxed commercial about the announcement, saying NBC had been very aggressive promoting ideas in the program that leverage "multiple touch points" for advertisers. "We call it 'fusion marketing,' " the car manufacturer suit said.

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