ABC is giving Jimmy Kimmel a huge promotion, starting his late-night talk show 25 minutes earlier, at 11:35 pm, the late-night big time. Starting in 2013, Jimmy Kimmel Live will go head-to-head with the Big Two of network late night, CBS' Late Show with David Letterman and NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. With steadily climbing ratings at his midnight slot, plus high-profile hosting gigs at this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner and the upcoming Emmy Awards, "this is Jimmy's moment," says Disney/ABC president Anne Sweeney. "We are looking at a landscape with two entrenched guys who are starting to fade. Their audiences are diminishing and Jimmy... is continuing to grow." But late-night TV is brutally competitive. Is Kimmel really strong enough to take on established giants Leno and Letterman?
ABC is taking a big gamble: Over the past 10 years, ABC unsuccessfully tried to lure both Leno and Letterman to its 11:35 slot, occupied by the venerable Nightline since 1980, says Bill Carter at The New York Times. But entrusting its late-night hopes to Kimmel "represents a significant gamble." First, Nightline is still going strong, drawing an older but often bigger crowd than Leno or Letterman. And as NBC can attest, ABC chasing a younger audience by using Kimmel could backfire: When NBC swapped Leno for Conan O'Brien in 2009, it infamously "recoiled at the overall loss of viewers."
"ABC sees a contender in Jimmy Kimmel"
Kimmel will be king: Jimmy may not "win the ratings battle — that's yet to be seen and irrelevant to his talent," says Tim Goodman at The Hollywood Reporter — but this is the right move for ABC, because "Kimmel is the best late-night host on television." He's moving into a crowded, talent-packed time slot. But while "Leno is important," Letterman is "legendary," and "Conan is the respected wild card" over at TBS, "Kimmel has the buzz show," the influential and fun "party everyone wants to attend." At 11:35, he will come into his own.
"All hail Jimmy Kimmel"
At the very least, Kimmel gets the last laugh: No matter how you spin it, moving Kimmel to late-night primetime is "a risky move for ABC," says Jesse David Fox at Splitsider. But it's a smart bet, because ABC has its eye on the long game. Leno and Letterman are both in their 60s, a good 20 years older than Kimmel, and when they retire, ABC will have an established alternative in the 11:35 slot. "It might be two years from now or it might be 10, but at some point Kimmel will be the last man standing, and his show will benefit greatly."
"Shit just got real: Jimmy Kimmel Live to move to 11:30"