Jimmy Kimmel on Starting a Whole New Late-Night Shift

The Talk-Show Host Considers His Prospects in a Rapidly Changing Time Slot

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Jimmy Kimmel
Jimmy Kimmel Credit: ABC

When "Jimmy Kimmel Live" makes its debut in the 11:35 p.m. time slot on ABC Jan. 8, it will mark just the latest in a series of seismic shifts that have altered TV's late-night landscape. In just a few years' time, should CBS's David Letterman or NBC's Jay Leno decide to step down, Mr. Kimmel could be the best-known face on broadcast in the time period. Below, in a lightly edited interview, the host offers his take on doing live ads on his program, going viral and the continued splintering of wee-hours TV.

Ad Age : What, if anything, about the show will change when you move half an hour earlier? Is there anything you have to do to appeal to the broader demographic, including older viewers, who might tune in more strongly earlier in the night?

Mr. Kimmel: That mandate has not been given, and even if it had, I would ignore it. I just think that when you try to guess who your viewers are and you try to adapt to an imaginary group, you run into trouble. We've been doing the show for 10 years. We've had a chance to figure out what works for us and what doesn't work, and I think that we would be very, very foolish to make wholesale changes just because we're moving up 25 minutes.

Ad Age : You've long embraced product placement and advertiser integrations. Others in the time slot do them, too, but sometimes they seem to be holding their noses when they do it. How do you balance being "advertiser friendly" with not letting marketers plaster your show with their logos?

Mr. Kimmel: The vast majority of our clients understand what they are buying and what they are going to get from us. As long as we cover the messaging points they give us, we don't have much in the way of problems with them. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they're very, very happy with the result. They give us an idea as to what they are trying to push and then we come up with some basic ideas and then we get a script together and they look at it. I have to say, occasionally there are some very small additions or subtractions they ask for, but usually they are pretty happy with what we come up with. … We make more from the live commercials and I feel like it's more entertaining for the viewers to see a live commercial than it is to see another commercial on tape.

Ad Age : You were early to embrace the idea of viral videos, including a famous example with Matt Damon. How important is it to have jokes, sketches, interviews that get picked up digitally and go viral?

Mr. Kimmel: We kind of look at it in a different way. We know the reality of YouTube and of the internet, and we know what kinds of things will become big in those arenas, but I always remember we're doing a television show first, and sometimes that 's hard for people to understand. We'll have celebrity publicists call us and say, "We want to shoot a viral video." We don't shoot viral videos. We shoot a television show, and sometimes the videos become very popular online, but that 's not our goal. Our goal is to put on a great TV show. What's nice is that a lot of people get to see the comedy bits that probably wouldn't have seen them, and I think we bring new fans into the show as a result of these videos.

Ad Age : How did this move come about? Did ABC approach you or vice versa? Have you been itching to have your show start earlier in the night? And what do you think the earlier time slot does for you?

Mr. Kimmel: It's something we've been hoping would happen for a long time, but it's also something they've been ignoring for a long time. I wouldn't say it was a surprise, but it was gradual. You could see it over the years, the notes moving toward that decision. I think ultimately [ABC Entertainment President] Paul Lee decided to make it. I think it was a combination of [a 2012 appearance at] the White House Correspondents' Dinner and also the Emmys and all of these different things that we're doing, and I think that at a certain point if we were going to get into the game at 11:35, now is the time, and they felt I was ready, whereas I, of course, thought I was ready five years ago. Maybe I'm delusional and I'm not ready now. Only time will tell. I think it will increase the audience, I think it will increase the price for the show and probably get more advertising dollars. It's just moving from coach to maybe not first class, but business class.

Ad Age : You'll be taking on both Jay Leno and David Letterman from the get-go, but over the next few years, either or both of them might step down. Is your move to 11:35 now a step by ABC to perhaps install a fresh face in the time slot now so that you're the veteran in the not-too-distant future?

Mr. Kimmel: They want to put me in place so that I would be tried and tested and a familiar face to people who are watching television at that time. These shows are kind of like icebergs. Things don't change very frequently. What has happened over the last several years has been very unusual. People watch late-night television in a regimented way, and I just think the idea is that people get used to the idea that I'm on at that time and I'm an option and that they become familiar with me, and, hopefully, as the sea changes, people stick with me.

Ad Age : Given the number of late-night shows available out there, from Conan O'Brien to Chelsea Handler to Comedy Central to Adult Swim, do you think there can ever truly be a King of Late Night?

Mr. Kimmel: No, I don't think there ever will be. I think Johnny Carson was the last King of Late Night. I hope to have a narrow edge on everyone else. That's really all you can hope for.

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