NBC may be quietly looking to put some possible late-night reinforcements in place for its big transition two years from now when Conan O’Brien replaces Jay Leno as host of The Tonight Show.If NBC is smart, they would choose Jimmy Fallon over Carson Daly. I refuse to watch Carson Daly even if I am up that late to watch it occasionally.
One move is expected to involve signing Jimmy Fallon, a former star of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, to what is known as a holding deal. It would bring him back to the network and put him in position to be a prime contender for Mr. O’Brien’s job as host of NBC’s Late Night show, at 12:35 a.m.
Executives aware of the negotiations said NBC had been in talks with Mr. Fallon and his representatives for a deal that would make his television services exclusive to the network. One of those executives, who did not want to be identified because the deal has not yet been signed, said the deal could include a crack at the “Late Night” host role, though it was by no means guaranteed.
As with all job openings in the late-night arena, names emerge as stars (and their agents) begin positioning themselves. NBC already has an in-house candidate, Carson Daly, who since 2002 has been the host of another successful late night show, Last Call, which follows Late Night, at 1:35 a.m. Mr. Daly has said he would like to be considered for that show.
Such a deal would essentially secure Mr. Fallon for future, unspecified television work. He could, for example, develop other shows for NBC, like a situation comedy, and not move into the network’s late-night lineup.It does help Jimmy Fallon's resume that he is still close with Late Night's executive producer Lorne Michaels.
But having a familiar comic star like Mr. Fallon available to take over Mr. O’Brien’s show would be consistent with the pattern NBC has established in previous late-night lineup changes. In the early 1980s, before NBC produced a 12:30 show, it signed David Letterman to a holding deal that retained his services after the morning show for which he was the host failed. Mr. Letterman was then available when NBC decided to expand its late-night programming with a new show in February 1982.
Not every holding deal has led to a spot in late night. In the early 1990s with Johnny Carson’s retirement nearing, NBC signed deals with several comics, including Dennis Miller (who like Mr. Fallon had been a Saturday Night Live star) and a well-regarded stand-up named Jerry Seinfeld. Mr. Seinfeld got a deal to develop a sitcom, though the network was mainly interested in him as a potential late-night star.
Later NBC offered Dana Carvey, another former Saturday Night Live star, a job that would have placed him in the Late Night chair after Mr. Letterman left for CBS. Mr. Carvey ultimately turned down the offer.
That’s when NBC turned to Mr. O’Brien, who was not a comic but a comedy writer. He too had connections to Saturday Night Live, where he had served as a writer before moving on to The Simpsons.
Mr. Fallon, 32, fits the pattern of late-night host-in-waiting in several respects, beginning with his work, from 1998 through 2004, on “Saturday Night Live,” which made him familiar to millions of late-night comedy viewers. He emerged as a breakout star when he was made the co-host of that show’s “Weekend Update” segments with Tina Fey.We're a few years away so who knows what will happen.
By all accounts Mr. Fallon remains close Lorne Michaels, the executive producer of “Saturday Night Live” and an executive producer “Late Night,” who was instrumental in choosing Mr. O’Brien for that show. Mr. Michaels will be deeply involved in choosing a successor to Mr. O’Brien. Mr. Michaels has said he is still “a big fan of Jimmy’s.”