I went with Kimmel because I prefer the element of surprise. I knew for a fact Charlie Rose would prompt my cerebral cortex to spontaneously liquefy. "Jimmy Kimmel Live," on the other hand, was an unknown entity. I'd never watched it, because there never seemed a pressing reason to do so.
Who are these fans?
In fact, I don't know a single person who watches "Jimmy Kimmel Live," which bodes well for the show's future success. As we've witnessed with "Arrested Development," "30 Rock" and countless other twitchy-humor classics championed by us much-much-much-wittier-than-you city folk, fawning media coverage doesn't translate into ratings or an extended lifespan. Nobody I know watches Fox News or listens to Josh Groban, either, and they seem to be doing well enough for themselves.
I can't say that viewing several episodes of "Jimmy Kimmel Live" for this review has converted me into a full-out fan, as the show's mix of Jay Leno gentility (monologue jokes that tweak rather than bite) and Howard Stern weirdness (a revolving cast of oddballs, like Jimmy's venerable Uncle Frank) ain't my thing. I'll say this, though: Kimmel deserves more consideration -- from viewers, from marketers, from media nerfballs -- than he gets.
"Jimmy Kimmel Live" receives less respect, in fact, than any other late-night show in history. ABC doesn't plug it with the same delirious vigor that NBC does Leno or Comedy Central does Stewart and Colbert. It isn't broadcast in high-definition (to be fair, neither is "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson"). It's also saddled in most markets with perhaps the most tonally discordant lead-in imaginable, "Nightline" ("Wow, 8,000 baby corpses in a mass grave outside Basra -- what a harrowing report, Cynthia. That's it for us -- stay tuned for 'Jimmy Kimmel Live,' with special guests Ice-T and Debbie Matenopoulos!").
Thanks to the "I'm F**king Matt Damon" and "I'm F**king Ben Affleck" videos, the latter of which ranks as the most masterfully executed late-night bit in a long time, Kimmel has momentum and online buzziness for the first time in ... well, ever. The show seems to be taking advantage of the opportunity, booking a higher caliber of guest -- the Kathy Griffins and Mike Tysons of the world have been replaced by the Ryan Phillippes and Kate Bosworths -- and getting slightly edgier with its segments.
Mostly, though, it's about Kimmel himself, who has grown into the host's blazer. As much as his appearances on Fox's NFL pre-game show came ever-so-close to making a smile crease my lips, I never understood what motivated ABC to hand him his own late-night gabber. His "Man Show" trampolinist worship didn't suggest a guy who would be capable of or comfortable with feigning interest in Andrew McCarthy's latest project. I can only compare Kimmel-circa-March-2008 with the few moments I've caught over the years while flipping between channels, but he comes across less as a lapsed fraternity oaf than a genuine guy. Simply by being self-deprecating and shtick-free -- by being normal, for lack of a more descriptive adjective -- Kimmel might have the most unique persona in late-night TV.
A compromise show?
I wonder whether marketers are seeing the same show that I am. To me, "Jimmy Kimmel Live" seems primarily targeted at couch monkeys, at everymen like Kimmel himself. But advertisers on a recent episode included guys-dig-junk-food-and-diesel-fumes mainstays (Wendy's, White Castle, Ruby Tuesday's, Honda, Saturn, Volkswagen, Infiniti and Nissan, along with concert-series sponsor Pontiac) as well as pharma and gal-focused personal-care brands (Abilify, Zyrtec, Nexus Hair Care, CoverGirl, Crest Whitestrips). Maybe it's more of a compromise show than I thought -- the missus can't handle Letterman's crankiness and the mister can't abide Leno sucking the funny out of the room, so they settle on Kimmel.
Whatever the case may be, a range of marketers has awakened to the show's low-key charms. Maybe the rest of us should check out "Jimmy Kimmel Live" once anew with an open mind. Clearly the show is perceived differently within the entertainment community than it used to be. Three years ago, would Brad Pitt, Harrison Ford, Cameron Diaz and Robin Williams have signed up for a Kimmel segment?
"Jimmy Kimmel Live" celebrates its 1,000th episode with a 90-minute episode on April 3, promising talk-show flibbertigibbet Richard Simmons among its guests. So help me God, I'll be tuning in.