In Depth

Jimmy Fallon Headed to NBC 'Late Night'

NBC made it official today: Jimmy Fallon will become the third host of “Late Night” in June 2009, setting in motion the high-stakes late-night shift that will send Conan O’Brien to Jay Leno’s desk on “The Tonight Show” and a new studio on the NBC Universal lot in Los Angeles next year.

The New York Times, which first reported Mr. Fallon’s presumed coronation in February, broke the news of the deal’s consummation Monday. Mr. Fallon is a veteran of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.”

NBC executives declined to say how long a commitment Mr. Fallon will start with or to say exactly when the “Late Night” and “Tonight” transitions would occur.

Jay Leno has ruled late night since passing CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman” in 1995. But NBC decided in 2004 to make the commitment to Mr. O’Brien as the next generation, even if it meant risking the loss of the hard-working Mr. Leno to other competitors seeking a star who can bring in elusive, and lucrative, young male viewers in profitable numbers.

Although NBC has said it would like to find a way to keep Mr. Leno at the network, the comedian, who succeeded “Tonight” pioneer Johnny Carson in 1992, has been courted by numerous suitors. They include Fox Broadcasting, which has failed more than once to find a late-night show that succeeds.

Ben Silverman, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, conceded Monday that it would be “a reach” to keep Mr. Leno at NBC.

The quirky Mr. O’Brien was a relative unknown who had worked as a writer on “Saturday Night Live” and “The Simpsons” and was an on-air neophyte when he took over “Late Night” in 1993, when Mr. Letterman left “Late Night” to take the 11:35 p.m. time slot that Mr. Leno had won at NBC. Mr. O’Brien struggled in the ratings, earning commitments of only 13 weeks at a time for his first three years as Mr. Letterman’s successor.

Mr. Fallon made the “Late Night” press conference Monday an entertaining one, cracking jokes about everything from “the eighth hour of ‘Today’” to reporters’ questions and his own answers.

One reporter expressed skepticism that Mr. Fallon went to a kindergarten named “St. Mary of the Snow,” that the kindergarten published a yearbook and that in the yearbook Mr. Fallon was named “Most Likely to Succeed David Letterman.” The comedian riffed about that, drawing a verbal picture of the reporter laughing out loud while reading Wikipedia.

Mr. Fallon’s beaming parents, Jim and Gloria, said their offspring had talked to them—“because that’s the kind of son he is”—but had not consulted with them before deciding to take the “Late Night” challenge.

“You can’t do this job unless it’s all you want,” said Lorne Michaels, the “Saturday Night Live” founder who tapped Conan O’Brien and launched his incarnation of “Late Night” and is repeating that role with Mr. Fallon.

Mr. Fallon said his wife had left him a note in the morning saying, “Nice knowing you.”

11:20 a.m.: Updated throughout