- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2002

"Politically Incorrect" is now just plain incorrect: ABC has canned the late-night talk show.

Embittered libertarian host Bill Maher will surrender his time slot to cable TV comedian Jimmy Kimmel, the beer-swilling darling of men who behave badly, as politics gives way to farce.

But the network may be trading one brand of rudeness for another.

Mr. Kimmel currently hosts Comedy Central's "The Man Show," described as "a phenomenon which delights men and disgusts women of all ages." Indeed, it has buxom bimbos aplenty, plus Oprah Winfrey bashing and multiple gags based on toilets or sex toys.

Yesterday, Mr. Kimmel was the very paragon of propriety, putting his best dirty sneaker forward at an ABC event for press and potential advertisers in New York. He was described as a "fresh and unique talent" by Lloyd Braun, the network's entertainment chief.

"Yes, Jimmy is incredibly funny," said Comedy Central spokesman Tony Fox yesterday. "And 'The Man Show' is only one aspect of what he's capable of. Obviously ABC believes he's got the sensibility to get an audience, and this is all about getting an audience."

Mr. Fox would not speculate on how far Mr. Kimmel could go before boorish or questionable high jinx alarmed ABC programmers. The comedian has proven he can go mainstream, though. For the last two years, he has been "Jimmy the Prognosticator" for Fox TV's "NFL Sunday."

"But it is sort of ironic that one Comedy Central alumnus is bumping another one off ABC," Mr. Fox said.

Outgoing host Mr. Maher cut his teeth at the cable channel in the 1990s by pairing up unlikely political foes in edgy, clever bouts that included tantrums, hysterics and even weeping among the guests.

When "Politically Incorrect" moved to ABC in 1996, the edge dulled, leaving Mr. Maher scrambling for guests who could provide at least some timely entertainment value on a nightly basis. His efforts drew less than half the 6 million viewers of NBC's "Tonight Show."

The worst was yet to come. Five days after the September 11 attacks, Mr. Maher called U.S. military tactics "cowardly," irking the White House, local ABC affiliates and some advertisers, who cancelled their sponsorships. In the aftermath, Mr. Maher said he expected ABC to cancel his contract.

Yesterday, ABC was the very paragon of diplomacy. Mr. Maher had been "tireless in his efforts" and the show was "great work," according to entertainment chief Mr. Braun. Mr. Maher will remain on the air for another month or so, creating a boon for "Nightline," which will expand to an hour.

ABC plans to introduce Mr. Kimmel's new show after the 2003 Super Bowl, marking almost a year of late-night angst, including the network's ill-fated efforts in March to cancel "Nightline" and woo CBS late-night host David Letterman as a replacement.

Meanwhile, Comedy Central is not quite ready to surrender its favorite son, whose popularity is only outranked by the cursing cartoon characters of "South Park."

"We will have 94 episodes of 'The Man Show' in the can for rerun," said Mr. Fox. "And we're always looking for new talent. Always. And who knows? Maybe it will be a woman this time."

Contact Jennifer Harper at [email protected]washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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