Just in time for its 10th anniversary, ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live will move to 11:35 p.m. in January, while Nightline — which has held that time slot since its launch in 1979 (as Iran Crisis: America Held Hostage) — slides to 12:35 a.m.
As part of the time slot shift (which takes effect Jan, 8), Kimmel has also extended his contract — which was set to expire in February 2013 — for another two years, keeping him at ABC until at least 2015.
The move was a long time coming, and may be the biggest show of support yet for Jimmy Kimmel from ABC. The host, who's currently prepping to host the Primetime Emmy Awards on the network, is on a roll, having ended the 2011-2012 TV season with his second-most watched year ever. "He's ready," says ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee. Adds Disney/ABC TV Group president Anne Sweeney, "Given the passionate fan base Jimmy Kimmel Live has built over the past decade, and the show's ratings and creative momentum this season, the time is right to make this move."
Jimmy Kimmel Live was the only late night show in broadcast last year to grow year-to-year in total viewers (up 3 percent to its best ratings since the 2006-07 season), and was also the No. 3 broadcast talk show of the season, ahead of NBC's Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and CBS' Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson.
Of course, complicating factors is the fact that Nightline is having a great year as well. The newsmagazine was No. 1 in late night this recent July sweep, averaging 3.6 million viewers, and also beat NBC's The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and CBS' Late Show With David Letterman in viewers, adults 18-49 and adults 25-54.
Nonetheless, a move to 11:35 seemed inevitable for Kimmel, which last year was moved up to a 12 midnight start time, from its previous 12:05 a.m. start. ABC had also shown a willingness a decade ago to make way for a talk show at 11:35, when the network was courting Letterman to leave CBS. At that time, ABC planned to cancel Nightline — which wound up being a factor in Letterman's decision not to join the network (and opened the door for a new show hosted by Kimmel the next year).
In recent years, particularly after longtime anchor Ted Koppel left in 2005, Nightline has evolved into a nightly package of multiple topics. The move has been well-received by viewers — the show has regularly beat its talk show competition.
The January time slot swap represents the biggest shift in late night since NBC's Jay Leno/Conan O'Brien debacle, and sets the stage for an even more crowded talk show battle after the local news. Not only will Kimmel face off head-to-head with Leno and his boyhood idol Letterman, but he'll also be up against Comedy Central's The Colbert Report; the second half-hour of TBS' Conan; and, in many markets, a revived Arsenio Hall Show (which is set to debut in fall 2013).
Kimmel may benefit from being slightly younger (median age 53.4) compared to Leno (median age 57.5) and Letterman (55.8). Horizon Media's Brad Adgate says he believes the host's midnight start time has helped him stand out from the competition, but that also "ABC has given him a prime time platform for NBA Finals which aids his visibility. Also a lot of his skits are funny and winding up online, which also helps boost his show."
The Kimmel news comes just days after NBC made budget cuts at the Tonight Show, forcing Leno to take a pay cut and the show to lay off 20 staffers.
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