Jimmy Kimmel is clearly a master of the politics of late-night TV. After all, he hosts one of the biggest programs in the time period. But he sees a time coming soon when there may be less politics in late night.
“I think that we are almost out. We are clearly running low,” he said of the increased reliance in recent weeks on U.S. politicians for guests on late-night TV programs. Ever since Kimmel landed a chat with President Barack Obama last March, viewers have seen, among others, Hillary Clinton surface on NBC’s “Tonight Show,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz peek out on CBS’ “Late Show” and Senator Bernie Sanders munch on soul food on Comedy Central’s “Nightly Show.”
Soon, suggested Kimmel, the cupboard may be bare. ”We are going to have to start going out to other countries,” he joked.
The near-ubiquitous Donald Trump is slated to turn up on Kimmel’s ABC program, “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” this week as the show takes a week-long turn in Brooklyn, New York, instead of its California base. The real-estate mogul turned candidate will take part in a special live segment, Kimmel said in an interview Sunday morning while crew members were spotted working aggressively to get his show set up and ready. More details were not forthcoming.
Kimmel is coming to New York to remind viewers about what he does back West. Kimmel has the longest tenure behind the desk of any of the current hosts of broadcast television’s cadre of wee-hours hosts. Indeed, only Conan O’Brien, now on cable’s TBS, has been doing it longer. Yet a spate of talent maneuvers in the time-slot on nearly every outlet other than ABC has drawn a good chunk of the spotlight accorded the time period. Kimmel’s program has in recent weeks trailed those of Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert in viewership. The Brooklyn trip, said Kimmel, will “give us a ratings boost.”
Hosting a late-night program is a marathon, however, not a sprint, and Kimmel knows audiences remain interested in his antics and those of others. “More people are watching late-night television – not necessarily on television – than ever before,” noted Kimmel. He suggested the hordes of people catching his YouTube clips, streams of his program on Hulu and Facebook, and the good ol’ ABC broadcast represent “a Super Bowl a week” that big companies like Walt Disney, Comcast and Time Warner are bound to monetize more readily. “They’ll figure it out eventually,” he said. “It just takes people a long time.”
Kimmel’s New York run will take place as the Fallon and Colbert shows are in reruns – a deliberate maneuver, he said, that makes landing top guests easier. The comedian will, over the course of a week, sit down with Bill Murray, Howard Stern, Tracy Morgan and Michael J. Fox. Will the last of those names nod to anything related to “Back to the Future,” which is celebrating its 30th anniversary? “Possibly,” said Kimmel. Fox is expected to sit down for an interview, and, said Kimmel, “something else” that could be the stand-out bit of the week.
These days, it seems, every one of the late-night programs tries to burnish a point of distinction the others lack. At CBS, Colbert is courting the intelligentsia with his pursuit of corporate CEOs and government leaders. NBC’s Fallon is the ultimate fan who gets celebrities to play charades. On Comedy Central, Chris Hardwick cajoles comedians to spit out rapid-fire one-liners about trending topics. Kimmel’s humor is a little more acerbic than that of his contemporaries. Like his hero David Letterman, Kimmel’s bits tend to explore edgier topics, like how celebrities respond to criticism – his show’s running “Mean Tweets” gag – or even reveal flaws in the news media, as he did with a video that purported to show a woman getting into a serious accident while twerking.
But Kimmel says finding the central philosophy of his show isn’t all that complicated. “The decision I made is to try to be myself. I know that sounds trite, but it really is the decision I made, because I had no other choice,” he said. He likes to keep his family involved in the program and “talk about what I think and find interesting.” If he succeeds, he said, he knows very quickly based on digital pass-around. “When you put something online, does it take off or doesn’t it take off? It’s very democratic,” he said. “If it’s really good, really funny or really interesting, it will strike a nerve and people will share it.”
The host said he expected to want to continue his work beyond the terms set by his current contract with ABC, which lasts through January of 2017. “I would expect that we will, but it seems like 100 years from now,” he noted.
In the meantime, he has five shows coming up that need his immediate attention. “Every time I know I have a show to do, I want to put something good on,” he said. If the marathon is to continue, Kimmel needs to move one step at a time.