The first major shake-up in late night since Jay Leno’s return to The Tonight Show was announced yesterday: Jimmy Kimmel Live is moving from midnight to 11:35, going head-to-head with Letterman’s Late Show and Leno. It’s a smart decision in every respect for ABC, and a huge boon for Kimmel, who has quietly become one of the most popular and well-liked talk show hosts in the field. Here are five reasons why it was a wise decision on ABC’s part.
1) He Gets a Head Start on the New Generation at 11:35 — Letterman is 64 and Leno is 62. They’re on their way out. Letterman has a contract with CBS for two more years, and Leno is expected to sign on for another couple of years, as well. That’s likely it for both hosts. Leno has stepped away once, and is expected to make room for Jimmy Fallon soon, and Letterman can’t go on forever (who will replace him is still up in the air, but I like the odds for Conan, who replaced Letterman on Late Night, and having him replace Dave again, and compete against The Tonight Show would be a cool full-circle move). Kimmel can move into the slot and begin to get entrenched before the other new hosts come along.
2) Because Dave and Leno Are Old — Kimmel is 20 years younger that his two competitors in that slot, and it shows. Leno and Letterman have been doing the same schtick for decades, and Kimmel — with his viral videos, his upcoming Emmy hosting gig, and his high-profile slot hosting the White House Correspondent’s dinner — is the far more buzzy late-night host at the moment. His ratings are also up over 14 percent since last year, and ultimately Kimmel will likely be able to attract a younger, more advertiser-friendly demo than Dave and Leno.
3) Because It Keeps Kimmel on ABC — Kimmel’s contract was coming to an end, and this move ensures he stays with the network. Would he have moved? Probably not, but the last thing the late-night wars need is another spurned, unappreciated talk-show host. After all, we’re only a few years removed from ABC’s attempt to land Leno and bump Kimmel to a later time-slot. This move demonstrates that ABC appreciates Kimmel, erases any hurt feelings, and removes any threat of him leaving.
4) Because It Makes the Most Financial Sense — No doubt, this is the real motivating reason behind the move. According to the LA Times, Nightline generates $40 million a year in revenue; Kimmel generates $100 million (compared to $159 million for Leno and $154 million for Letterman). The move will allow ABC to charge higher rates than Nightline (which has been moved to 12:35 a.m.). Kimmel doesn’t even have to win the ratings war with Leno and Dave; he only needs to close the revenue gap to be considered a success.
5) Because He’s the Second Best Talk-Show Host Right Now — Tim Goodman over at THR called Kimmel the new King of Late Night and claims that he “is the best late-night host on television.” Personally, I’d still give the nod to Jimmy Fallon and his refreshingly post-ironic approach to late night. However, I agree that Kimmel is creatively leaps and bounds ahead of Letterman, Leno, and even Conan. He’s got Carson’s affability; he’s a great, likable interviewer; and while he doesn’t try as many new things as Fallon, his brand of edginess is more in tune with the 11:30 hour. Plus, he doesn’t have any of the baggage the other hosts have — Leno’s unfavorable ratings are high because of what he did to Conan; Conan is still seen as bitter over his ousting; and the affairs that Letterman had with staffers has turned him off with some people. There’s nothing particularly divisive about Kimmel. Indeed, he can do more than peel off viewers from The Late Show and The Tonight Show: He can bring new viewers to late night.