Continued from page 1

The demographics also have changed, with more advertiser-favored young viewers gravitating to cable options such as Adult Swim or Comedy Central and increasingly likely to catch up online with the best moments of network late-night.

But the 11:35 p.m. East-West sweet spot remains the prize, and Kimmel may have more than the desire to succeed in mind. While he’s a long-time admirer of Letterman, he’s taken sharp public jabs at Leno, including blaming him for O’Brien’s ill-fated tenure at “Tonight.”

So Kimmel is humble about competing directly with Letterman (calling him a “legend in broadcasting” who shouldn’t bat an eye at the prospect of new competition) but is throwing elbows at Leno, especially over the “Tonight” plan to get out ahead of “Jimmy Kimmel Live” by airing at 11:34 p.m. Eastern.

“Well, I think NBC has had a lot of success moving Jay Leno earlier so it makes perfect sense,” he said, dryly, referring to Leno’s short-lived prime-time stint. Kimmel dismissed the time-shifting as likely a brief “trick” to protect “Tonight” ratings, one that ultimately won’t matter.

“This really isn’t about the first month or about the first week or about the first night, it’s a long-term thing,” Kimmel told reporters. “If we do well the first week, I’m sure there will be a lot of press given to that. But what really matters is how you do in May, and that’s when we’ll really know … where we stand.”