NEW YORK – Jimmy Fallon's eighth-grade yearbook at St. Mary of the Snow in Saugerties, N.Y., listed him as "most likely to take over for David Letterman."
Letterman's not going anywhere, but close enough: Fallon is succeeding Conan O'Brien as the host of NBC's "Late Night" sometime in the middle of next year. NBC on Monday made official a plan that's been talked about since 2003, when a network executive first broached the idea of doing a talk show with the former "Saturday Night Live" star.
"I've been doing a monologue in my living room the last three years and it was embarrassing," Fallon joked at a news conference.
However, he said, "my wife seemed to like it."
Fallon told the anecdote about his school yearbook at a news conference, saying it was when he was in kindergarten. He insisted afterward that the story was true, but NBC later said his mother had corrected him: it was his eighth grade yearbook.
NBC's plan is to have O'Brien move west to take over for Jay Leno at the "Tonight" show next year. After a break to refurbish the Rockefeller Center studio where O'Brien now works, the 33-year-old Fallon will take over.
The Fallon transition is being managed by Lorne Michaels, who famously picked O'Brien out of obscurity to fill Letterman's old slot at NBC, then stuck with him despite savage early reviews.
Fallon, who left "SNL" in 2004 for a lukewarm movie career, should have an easier time of it, he said.
"You're never really certain of these things, but I just think he's built for it," Michaels said. "You've just seen that he's really funny, he's smart and he has a really, really good work ethic."
Despite its prime-time woes, NBC has managed to maintain its late-night dominance in the ratings, although O'Brien has been challenged lately by Craig Ferguson on CBS. Now it is attempting a tricky transition based on a promise made nearly four years ago that O'Brien would succeed Leno.
Leno continues to be the king of late-night, and NBC is trying to keep him at NBC Universal with some job other than "Tonight" host. If NBC were to renege on the deal made to O'Brien, the "Late Night" host would reportedly be owned a penalty fee of about $40 million.
Jeff Zucker, NBC president and CEO, would not comment Monday on the state of talks with Leno, or what NBC is offering. Leno would undoubtedly draw interest from ABC and Fox if he wanted to work the same hours.
"That's something he's got to decide and I think that's the question," Zucker said. "That's a good question. I don't think he knows."
Fallon worked alongside Tina Fey on the "Weekend Update" segment on "Saturday Night Live." He's also known for his impersonations of Barry Gibb, Adam Sandler and Jerry Seinfeld.
It was Rick Ludwin, chief late-night executive at NBC, who said he raised the idea of a talk show future with Fallon in 2003. He'd watch Fallon talk comfortably backstage with Hollywood stars and stagehands alike, and those simple conversational skills are crucial to the job.
Still, there are plenty of details to work out, including the show's format and whether he has a sidekick or band.
"I'm not sure I'm going to reinvent the wheel with the talk-show format," Fallon said. "There's no need."
Besides being a personable character the audience enjoys, a prospective talk show host needs to commit to the hard work, the NBC executives said. At least for the first few months, Fallon will be working five nights a week because no reruns are built up.
"I really plan to give my all on this," Fallon said. "My wife, she left me a note this morning saying, `Nice knowing you."'