Jimmy Kimmel has always been a good company man (in the way, say, David Letterman isn’t), appearing at ABC upfront presentations and seldom missing an opportunity to help promote his latenight program — including his awkward pre-show appearance at the Oscars on Sunday. Still, after getting sand kicked in his face ratings-wise during Jimmy Fallon’s honeymoon period on “The Tonight Show,” he should beware overreaching to make noise.
On Monday, that included a highly promotable interview with Rob Ford, the Toronto mayor who became an international punchline when he admitted to smoking crack cocaine, among other transgressions.
For Kimmel, like every other latenight comic, Ford has been an irresistible punching bag. And having the Canadian politician exhibit the poor sense to show up for the interview sort of oddly dovetails with the image of Ford as an amiable goof who somehow, improbably, got himself elected.
“Why are you here?” Kimmel said, by way of opening the interview. “What good could come of this? Have you ever seen this show?”
After that, though, the host seemed somewhat perplexed regarding how to proceed. He fired off a litany of allegations directed at Ford, without really giving the mayor a chance to respond, then ran a medley of the embarrassing video clips that have been such media catnip, riffing on them but not really providing any context.
Before it was over, Kimmel offered a half-hearted suggestion that Ford seek help for his drinking problem, but in its totality the disjointed conversation made the host look out of his depth. And while the segment will surely receive considerable pickup from cable news (how can they resist?), Kimmel generally squandered the opportunity booking Ford provided, other than getting to see the mayor sweat profusely.
Kimmel will be hosting a week’s worth of episodes from the South by Southwest Festival in Austin next week, and between his Oscar special and the Ford “get,” the show and ABC are clearly trying to position “Jimmy Kimmel Live” for a push now that the initial flurry of Fallon sampling has occurred.
While Kimmel can be quick and funny, Ford’s guest shot — and the tedious interview with the Muppets’ Gonzo that followed — mostly just exposed his limitations. And by the end of the hour, the prevailing thought wasn’t so much “I wonder what Kimmel’s going to do next” as “I wonder who Letterman has on tomorrow.”