BWW Interview: JIMMY KIMMEL On Going Head-to-Head With Jay Leno
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Starting tomorrow, Tuesday January 8, 2013, Jimmy Kimmel, host and executive producer of the Emmy Award-nominated JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE, the ABC Television Network's late-night talk show, moves to his new time slot at 11:35 pm.
Kimmel recently spoke about what the time change means for his show as well as why he still holds a grudge against 'Tonight Show' host Jay Leno.
I began by asking Kimmel how he goes about the Herculean task of writing his nightly monologue. "Something I did on the show last night, just a little thing - I talked about how Santa Claus might be the biggest prank ever pulled, this kind of ruse that we engage in to trick our children into believing this mythological creature exists and brings them toys. It's really a prank when you boil it down. And this is something I thought about as I was lying in bed at like 6:00 in the morning, and then I fell back asleep. And I didn't remember it until I was writing the monologue that night. And it hit me and I thought, 'oh, yes, that's right.' Usually, I take little notes whenever I think of something I might use on the air. But you really always - when you do a show like this or a radio show, you need so much material that you evaluate - if you're doing your job, you're evaluating everything that you consume and everything that happens to you and deciding, oh, is this something that I could use for the show? Is this something that people will be interested in hearing my take on? And so, I do that constantly. I mean it really never ends - and it's exhausting!"
Kimmel believes that beginning the show at an earlier time should have little or no impact on how things are run; "...at 10:00 a.m., I get the 27-page packet from the writers with all of the ideas and jokes for the day, and I start going through those and then I hand those off to the writers to make into scripts, the things I've approved." explains Kimmel. " And so [in the new time slot] it will be identical to the way we've always done things. The only big difference is in the past, taping at 7:00 p.m., which was later than everyone else, we'd get a chance to see who won "American Idol," who won "The Voice," you know, you get to see the results of these shows and we won't have that now. So because we're on earlier that will change it a little bit."
The host emphasized that moving his show up twenty-five minutes earlier can make a big impact in the ratings race. "The big deal is that for some reason, people go to sleep at midnight - you lose a lot of people at that time. I think people look at their clock and they say, 'midnight is the time I am going to go to bed.' And so, the audience is just much bigger. There are a lot more people up watching television at 11:35 than there are at midnight. It's as simple as that. And on top of it, there is - and maybe this is just something that we in the industry are more interested in than the general public is, but there's a mythology and traditions surrounding that 11:35 time slot that started with Johnny Carson and then became a big deal when Leno went up against Letterman. And so, people are interested in it from that standpoint as well."
But Kimmel maintains that despite the new hour, he has no intention of changing what has proven to be a successful formula. "I think there's this idea that you need to broaden the show or make it - you know, make it more wholesome or something like that. And I think that's a little bit out of date, that perception. Now, I think things have become so fragmented that you can continue doing the show that you've been doing and have success at 11:35, although I could be wrong. I guess only time will tell."
That being said, the host is not afraid to experiment with some new ideas for the format. "...we've been trying the different things for the last few months to see what we might want to add to the rotation. And we have added some things that have - we've gotten some really good response from, like, this thing we call "Lie Witness News" where we ask people questions and, basically, we lead them into lying.... we asked people who they thought won the first lady debate during the election, and, of course, there wasn't a first lady debate, and we asked people what they think of the new iPhone and we hand them the old iPhone and then they give us their opinions on it. And we've been trying some man on the street type bits out and so those things will become regular parts of the show. But it's not like we're going to go on the air with some new character or some new member of the show "Family." It will pretty much be the same show that we've been doing."
Kimmel does not seem at all concerned about the competition he will face at the earlier hour, including long-time talk show host Jay Leno, who reportedly will move his start time up a minute earlier to get a head start out of the gate. "I think NBC has had a lot of success moving Jay Leno earlier so it makes perfect sense... I think it's an interesting strategy. I think, to me, it tells me that maybe they're a bit concerned. And I'll be curious to see how long they're able to keep that up, because I would assume they have to give a minute of commercial time away in order to do that. So, I'll be curious to see how that goes," he continues, "But, you know what? That's a trick, I would assume is designed to boost their ratings a little bit during the first month or so. And this really isn't about the first month or about the first week or about the first night, you know, it's a long-term thing. And, you know, if we do well the first week, I'm sure there will be a lot of press given to that. But what really matters is how you do in May, and that's when we'll really know where we stand, I think."
When discussing his long time idol David Letterman however, Kimmel clearly takes on a more reverent tone. "I would think that if I was David Letterman, none of this would matter to me at all. I mean, he's earned his place as a legend in broadcasting and probably the biggest comedy influence of the last 20 years on everyone who followed him, and I think that - if I was Dave, this wouldn't - I wouldn't bat an eye."
Speaking of Letterman, the recent Kennedy Center Honor recipient paid a visit to JKL when it was broadcast from Kimmel's home town of Brooklyn, New York in November. "It might be pathetic to say, but it was probably one of the most meaningful moments of my life," he gushes when speaking of the guest appearance. "I mean for everyone that's known me, since I was a kid - I mean, I can't overstate how crazy it was. I mean, this is somebody that - you know, when I was in high school, everyone knew me as the guy who watched David Letterman. I mean, it was ridiculous. And to be to be on his show was strange enough but to have him on my show was beyond anything I could've every imagined."
Beyond Letterman, I asked the host who else would make his list of comedic influences. "Howard Stern," he quickly answers, and adds, "SCTV is a show I loved. I think it's one of the great shows. It's something I watched a lot. Martin Short, I'd say Bill Murray, Steve Martin. A lot of black comedians. I loved Richard Prior, Jimmy Walker. We used to listen to Jimmy Walker's comedy album over and over again. Red Foxx was someone I loved. Jackie Gleason, Don Rickels, there are - almost everybody you could think of I'd put in that category, really."
One comedian who probably would not make the cut is Jay Leno, who Kimmel believes cheated Letterman out of his rightful place as successor to Johnny Carson as host of NBC's 'Tonight Show' "...to take something from someone that I admired, I mean, that's what did it for me, I guess. And this scheming seems to have continued. But, you know, listen, Jay's just another guy doing a T.V. show. I don't hate him or anything like that...the fact of the matter is NBC is going to have to make a decision, at some point. I mean, as much as he would like it to be the case, Jay Leno is not going to be able to stay on television forever. And, obviously, I think Jimmy Fallon is the heir apparent and he's doing a great show and so it makes sense that people would talk like this. But, you know, with that said, never count Jay out. He's a - he's like Jason in "Friday the 13th." He seems to pop up just when you think he's dead. He comes back to life. And he's got a hatchet!"