Jay Leno by Michael Schwartz/ WireImage.com
Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel together in late night at ABC?

If you listen to ABC Entertainment president Stephen McPherson, it could happen.

At his Wednesday session with the Television Critics Association, McPherson diffused the inevitable question about Jay Leno jumping to ABC by having Jimmy Kimmel pose as an out-of-town reporter. ("If you were to even talk to Jay Leno, wouldn't that be like contract tampering? Wouldn't that be illegal? Couldn't you go to jail for that?") Very funny. But it doesn't change the equation. If Jay Leno doesn't stay with NBC after he's done with the Tonight Show in May 2009, ABC is favored to become his new home. And McPherson acknowledged that's OK with him. "Someone like Leno doesn't come along every year," McPherson said when cornered by reporters after his press conference. "That's a huge possibility."

What about Kimmel? "We love Jimmy," McPherson said. "He's a part of this network. He's a star that is building for us and is going to be an asset for us for many years to come." If the network pursues Leno, Kimmel will be in on those conversations. "The Leno talk is not something that's going to go on behind closed doors and suddenly be sprung on somebody," McPherson said.

No official talks have taken place, but you can bet both Leno's people and ABC execs have silently mouthed the words "call me" to each other.

Is there room for both late night talkers? "I think there's absolutely room for both," McPherson said. Kimmel recently signed for another year with ABC and his contract will probably be up again around the time Leno is available next year.

If Leno is paired with Kimmel, there is little doubt that Leno would get the 11:30 slot. Leno has said that his job is to tell jokes at 11:30, something he can't be guaranteed at Fox or in syndication. If Kimmel stuck around he would stand to benefit, getting a strong compatible lead-in to his show and eventually taking over the 11:30 slot (he's 40 while Leno is 58).

But there's more. McPherson also said moving Kimmel to 11:35 p.m. is also "a huge possibility" and described late night as "potentially a growth area for us."

Of course, all of these scenarios mean dislodging ABC's current late night occupant Nightline. The news division is clearly hearing the drumbeats about late night changes. The PR department of ABC News has been touting Nightline's recent strong ratings performance against The Late Show with David Letterman.

McPherson dodged a question about the future of Nightline in light of all the speculation about more late night talk and comedy on ABC. "I have no idea because Nightline doesn't report to me," he said.

It's a call that somebody is going to have to make soon.

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