Comedian expected to take over for O'Brien

NBC will officially name Jimmy Fallon as Conan O’Brien’s “Late Night” replacement within the next few weeks, if not sooner, Peacock insiders said Thursday.

Net had been planning to introduce Fallon to advertisers at its NBC Universal “experience,” the May 12 theme park-like presentation at 30 Rock in New York that’s taking the place of NBC’s traditional upfront. Net is also expected to reveal details of O’Brien’s transition from “Late Night” to host of “The Tonight Show.”

Timing of the announcement may now be in flux, however, in the wake of a Fox News Web report about the Peacock plan.

It’s not as if the report killed any major surprise. Fallon has been the only real candidate for the job since February 2007, when Broadcasting & Cable and the New York Times reported that the former “Saturday Night Live” star had quietly signed a holding deal envisioning just such a gig. Six months later, Peacock latenight chief Rick Ludwin confirmed that Fallon was in line for the job.

“I think he’d be terrific, and he is at the top of our short list,” Ludwin told B&C.

Then, just two months ago, the Times again reported that Fallon would replace O’Brien and said he would likely begin in February 2009. O’Brien is expected to take off six months or so in between his final “Late Night” and first “Tonight Show.”

Peacock has no doubt delayed making Fallon official in order to allow him as much time as possible to put his show together without a heavy media spotlight. NBC may have also wanted to keep its options open in case there were any changes in the latenight or comedy landscapes.

O’Brien, meanwhile, is still slated to replace Jay Leno has host of “The Tonight Show,” despite some media speculation that NBC may be having cold feet. ABC and Fox have made it clear that Leno is welcome to hop to their networks if he wants, while the Times said Sony has offered to give Leno his own syndie berth.

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