Several years ago ABC made another attempt to get entertainment programming in the time slot by unsuccessfully trying to get Letterman to move from CBS. The attempt caused some unrest within ABC News, as then-“Nightline” host Ted Koppel resisted being displaced.
What became “Nightline” originated in November 1979 as 15-minute updates on the Iranian hostage crisis airing nightly at 11:30 p.m. Titled “The Iran Crisis — America Held Hostage,” this late-night newscast was greeted by many viewers as a welcome alternative to NBC’s “Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”
Last season, Letterman averaged 3.22 million viewers; Leno, 3.71 million; “Nightline,” 3.89 million; and Kimmel, 1.8 million. The talk-show figures include the second half-hour that includes drowsy audience drop-off.
“'Nightline' has proven its ability to grow over three decades on the air with the show currently enjoying some of its highest ratings and best editorial work ever,” Ben Sherwood, president of ABC News, said in a statement.
He said the news magazine welcomed the chance to produce a prime-time hour for a new audience and expressed confidence it will “enjoy many successes for years to come.”
The changeover’s timing is in part a function of politics. “Nightline” is a piece of ABC News‘ general election coverage, and ABC stations and affiliates will be beneficiaries of the ad dollars spent on campaign spots being placed around “Nightline” and other news shows.
ABC also sees two good platforms to promote Kimmel in January. Besides its “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” broadcast, it will call on sister network ESPN’s five-game Bowl Championship series, which ends on Jan. 7, to showcase his new-slot debut the next night.
Asked his reaction to winning the coveted new time slot, Kimmel invoked the memory of Conan O'Brien’s ill-fated move to “Tonight' at NBC. It ended when the network tried to return the slot to Leno; O'Brien bolted to a new show at TBS and Leno reclaimed “Tonight.”
“I was skeptical,” Kimmel said, dryly. “You know how this goes in late-night television. Sometimes they tell you you’re on at 11:30 and sometimes it doesn’t work out. But I think it will work out.”
He doesn’t expect to make any changes in the show for the new time slot.
“I may get a tummy tuck,” he said.
Leno can attest to the continuing vagaries of late-night work: On Friday, “Tonight” laid off about two-dozen workers and Leno accepted a pay cut to spare other staffers as NBC Universal cut down on expenses under new owner Comcast Corp.
It became comic fodder on Monday’s show.
“Welcome to the 'Tonight' show, or as Comcast calls us, ‘The Expendables,’” Leno joked in his monologue. “I knew something was going on. Friday morning I woke up and there was a Peacock head in my bed.”
• Television Writers David Bauder and Frazier Moore in New York contributed to this report.
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