When Jimmy Kimmel moves his late-night show to 11:35 p.m. Tuesday, he'll do more than cap a year that saw him emcee the White House Correspondents Dinner, host the Emmy Awards and celebrate a decade as ABC's late-night entertainment king.
He'll kick up a lot of questions, starting with the most immediate: Since things are going so well at midnight, why move Jimmy Kimmel Live up a half hour to face off against titans Jay Leno on NBC and David Letterman at CBS?
"For some reason, people go to sleep at midnight," Kimmel joked on a conference call with reporters in December. "I think people look at their clock and they say, midnight is the time I am going to go to bed. There are a lot more people up watching television at 11:35 than there are at midnight. It's as simple as that."
Of course, as the comic himself would admit a moment later, nothing is ever that simple at the highest levels of show business.
"There's 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," Kimmel said. "And so, people are interested in it from that standpoint as well."
That's the real reason why Kimmel's move is so important. In a stroke, the 45-year-old comic has joined a very short list of performers on the front lines of America's late-night television habit. Not bad for a guy whose early jobs included getting fired from WRBQ-FM in Tampa.
Kimmel says so long to his old time slot at midnight tonight with a special show Jimmy Kimmel Live: Goodbye to Midnight. On Tuesday, guests for the new time slot are set to include Jennifer Aniston, Ryan Gosling and Jamie Foxx.
Kimmel's rise also has raised lots of new issues. So here are my Top Five Questions Raised by Jimmy Kimmel's New Time Slot:
1) Do time slots really matter anymore?
For viewers, not so much, thanks to digital video recorders and online video. But it's a different story for TV providers, which see the size of the available audience drop off seriously after the late-night news ends. That's why most late-night talk shows begin with a monologue; the topical jokes are designed to hold audiences as long as possible after the late news, even if some viewers aren't interested in the show's guests that evening.
2) If Nightline is winning in THE ratings, why is ABC switching it with Kimmel?
This may surprise some: As of early December, Nightline was the top-rated late-night TV show, drawing more overall viewers and viewers in key demographics than Leno or Letterman.
So why change? As the Los Angeles Times pointed out last year, Nightline made about $40 million in ad revenue (on a half-hour show) compared with just under $100 million earned by Kimmel on his one-hour show in 2011. Moving Kimmel seems a bet that an earlier time slot can boost revenue even more.
3) Will Kimmel change his show to reach a broader audience?
According to the star, not really — at least, not by pulling back on edgy content. "I think there's this idea that you need to broaden the show or make it, you know, make it more wholesome," Kimmel said. "I think that's a little bit out of date."
4) Will NBC hand the 11:35 p.m. time slot to Jimmy Fallon, a younger host whose 12:35 p.m. Late-Night show is considered hipper and younger?
Already, Leno has begun airing one minute earlier than his competitors, perhaps to grab a bigger slice of viewers impatient for the local news to end. Last month, buzz began that NBC might be considering a new host for Fallon's 12:35 p.m. time slot, leading to speculation Fallon might be moved up to compete with Kimmel.
I say, such moves probably depend on whether Kimmel hurts Leno's ratings.
Kimmel laughed off the idea with a shot at Leno: "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," Kimmel said.
"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."
5) What's up with all the hate for Jay Leno, anyway?
During the conference call, Kimmel pinned his ire on the idolization of Letterman, whom Leno famously outmaneuvered to land the Tonight Show job after Carson retired.
But it's easy to forget Leno was considering a move to ABC back when the Peacock Network briefly pushed him off the Tonight Show for Conan O'Brien. According to an interview in the Rolling Stone magazine, Kimmel said Leno called him regularly to cultivate a friendship, then stopped calling when he decided to stay at NBC.
Small wonder Kimmel doesn't think nicely of the guy who blew him off after nearly stealing his future away.