Can Jimmy Kimmel topple Jay Leno and David Letterman?

The ABC funnyman is making the big leap to 11:35 p.m., putting him up against the two giants of late-night talk — but Kimmel might not be ready for his moment

Comedian Jimmy Kimmel delivers remarks at the White House Correspondents' Dinner in April: Kimmel could have a tough time competing against Letterman and Leno, or the timing of the change cou
(Image credit: Kristoffer Tripplaar-Pool/Getty Images)

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."

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