TV/Nielsen NotesLate-Night Ratings Are Becoming a Three-Way Race
By bill Carter, The New York Times
- Jan. 8, 2013
And Jimmy makes three.
Starting on Tuesday night, all three traditional broadcast networks will, for the first time, go head-to-head at 11:35 with entertainment-talk shows, as Jimmy Kimmel on ABC joins Jay Leno on NBC and David Letterman on CBS.
“Yes, I’m helping to further cheapen the medium,” Mr. Kimmel said in a telephone interview.
The truth is, Mr. Kimmel has worked doggedly for a decade to carve out his own identity in late night. And over the last several years, especially in 2012, Mr. Kimmel has begun to emerge as a well-respected, distinctive late-night star, one ABC finally deemed ready for the big stage, the show right after the late local newscasts.
The decision to move Mr. Kimmel from his midnight start time meant displacing the award-winning late-night news program “Nightline.” But ABC’s management has, since 2002, been seeking to switch to entertainment in late night, for the simple reason that the advertising money is so much greater for an entertainment show. ABC tried to woo both Mr. Letterman and Mr. Leno over that period, while Mr. Kimmel persevered, improving his monologue skills, polishing his performing style and making increasingly clever use of videos that stamped his show as an original rather than an imitation.
“Creatively, he’s ahead,” said Robert Morton, who produced Mr. Letterman at NBC and later CBS, as well as the more recent late-night series on TBS that starred George Lopez. Mr. Kimmel, he added, “has a more viral presence than the others and he is strong in social media.”
The change at ABC was accomplished without any of the emotional bloodletting that accompanied NBC’s two efforts to update “Tonight”: first when Mr. Leno outmaneuvered Mr. Letterman and grabbed the chair left by the genre’s biggest star, Johnny Carson, and then when NBC tapped Conan O’Brien to succeed Mr. Leno — a move that ended calamitously, with Mr. O’Brien ousted, Mr. Leno restored, and both men’s careers damaged.
In contrast, Mr. Kimmel is sliding into the 11:35 slot with minimal drama. Not that there weren’t moments of frustration that accompanied the wait.
“I was on 10 years of probation,” Mr. Kimmel said. “We always told ABC we were ready to move up whenever we got the call. But I didn’t have to push them. It was not one of those things where I said, ‘I’m not going to sign my contract unless we get 11:35.’ They did this on their own.”
Jill Leiderman, Mr. Kimmel’s executive producer for the last seven years, said: “Jimmy earned this through his diligence and hard work. He is now polished. He’s become a signature voice. He’s a younger presence.”
That point is not insignificant. At 45, Mr. Kimmel is much younger than Mr. Letterman (65) and Mr. Leno (62). According to one prevailing line of speculation about why ABC finally promoted Mr. Kimmel, the network wanted to establish him with younger viewers who have been defecting from the two aging superstars before NBC eventually installs its own rising late-night comic, Jimmy Fallon, 38, as Mr. Leno’s successor at “Tonight.”
ABC may also have circumvented a raid by another network. “No one had formally approached me because I’ve been under contract the whole time,” Mr. Kimmel said. “But there has definitely been some sniffing around.”
The last year has been by far the most prominent of Mr. Kimmel’s career. He hosted the Emmy Awards; served as the entertainment for the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner; got engaged (to his head writer, Molly McNearney); and saluted Mr. Letterman (his childhood idol) on the Kennedy Center Honors program. His show’s ratings also gained about 7 percent, to an average of just under two million viewers a night.
At the Kennedy Center show, the possibility that the two late-night stars would soon become head-to-head competitors never came up, Mr. Kimmel said, noting, “I don’t think Dave cares.”
He is convinced that Mr. Leno cares, however, and the fractiousness between the two has taken on the dimensions of a feud. Mr. Kimmel no longer modulates his shots at Mr. Leno (in a Rolling Stone interview this month he said, “As a comedian, you can’t not have disdain for what he’s done: He totally sold out.”)
Executives who work on Mr. Kimmel’s show have noted that NBC has increased its promotional efforts on behalf of Mr. Leno and that in recent weeks “Tonight” has moved its formal starting time to 11:34.
Mr. Leno tends to avoid responding to swats from competitors but usually doubles down on his competitive instincts.Mr. Morton predicted “a booking battle in L.A.,” with Mr. Kimmel and Mr. Leno fighting for the shrinking pool of A-level guests.
For his first week at the new time, Mr. Kimmel seems to have loaded the stage. On Tuesday Jennifer Aniston will be the main guest, with the band No Doubt playing. Later in the week Sofia Vergara, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Bruno Mars, and Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers will turn up.
But Mr. Kimmel said the earlier show will mostly resemble the one he has been doing at midnight — aside from a new set. Familiar comedy segments will be part of the mix, though new ones will be added. “I don’t think anyone will notice any difference other than the set,” he said. “And hopefully they will be awake this time when we’re on.”
But Ms. Leiderman said there would be one significant format change: “Instead of one long act of comedy, there will now be two long acts of comedy.” That is typical of the network 11:35 format, but Ms. Leiderman said that there would be more comedy over all, and that, unlike his competitors, Mr. Kimmel would not necessarily do a second comedy act behind his desk.
“He may be staying at the monologue mark,” she said, referring to his place onstage, making his work seem like an extended monologue on some occasions.
Mr. Kimmel said he might come up with yet another way to provide viewers with more of him. “I’m going to try to put on a hundred pounds through the course of the year,” he said. “That’s going to be my thing this year.”http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/08/arts/television/jimmy-kimmel-moves-to-an-1135-showtime-on-abc.html?ref=television&_r=0