Jimmy Kimmel had every right to cancel this interview.
Whenever Kimmel brings his late-night ABC show to the east coast for one of its popular week-long runs in Brooklyn, he does a little publicity on the Saturday before things kick off. He doesn’t have a lot of time. Kimmel wrapped a Thursday broadcast of “Jimmy Kimmel Live” from California and touched down in New York on Friday. Now there’s a lot to get done: The stage of Howard Gilman Opera House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which a massive crew is working on all weekend, must be set by Monday evening.
A live audience has been booked. Scheduled guests include Cardi B., Adam Sandler and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. And Google is set to sponsor the entire run – the first time ABC has enlisted an advertiser to do a week-long deal for the show’s Brooklyn trip.
So when a reporter missed the window for a brief interview with the comedian due to a broken-down commuter train, Kimmel could have easily moved on to other things. “Good Morning America” was there to tape a segment with him. Security personnel tracked his every move through the BAM facility. At 12:40 p.m. on Saturday, a lot of people were eager to get lunch.
And yet, Kimmel made time to talk. What’s more, he offered to make fun of Metro-North, the commuter train operator whose 9:55 a.m. express from Stamford, Conn., didn’t arrive at Grand Central Terminal in New York until well past 11:45.
Maybe he made himself available because Kimmel thinks Brooklyn has sparked some of his show’s best work. In 2015, Kimmel and crew managed to get actors Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd to reprise their roles as Marty McFly and Doc Brown from the 1985 blockbuster “Back to the Future” on the Opera House stage. The bit has become one of the show’s signature segments – no mean feat for a program that has given the world sundry “Mean Tweets,” various pranks and Sarah Silverman singing an ode to having sex with Kimmel’s faux nemesis, Matt Damon.
“It was the loudest cheering I’ve ever heard,” says Kimmel of the “Back to the Future” reunion. “And in fact, what you saw on the air was an edited version, because people were screaming and cheering and actually crying for so long that we had to cut some of it out to make the show time. I don’t think we’ll ever top that.”
Kimmel also has selfish reasons for his Brooklyn weeks. “I was born here. A lot of my family is here. Probably more than anything, it’s fun for us all to be here together and to eat and to hang out and to go to great bars,” he admits. And while many late-night shows tape in New York City, he says, Brooklyn “has a little bit of a different feel than shows that are in the city.”
When Kimmel came to Brooklyn last year, he was in the news for delivering several heartfelt monologues about healthcare and national politics – something for which he was not known before Donald Trump was elected to the Oval Office. The host says he’s simply following the recipe for making a good talk show.
“I’ve just operated under one philosophy, if you want to call it that, for my whole career, starting when I was on the radio, and it’s that you should be commenting on the news of the day. This is the news, for better or probably worse. This is the news of the day every day. I mean, I don’t know – the idea that you would talk about anything else other than what’s going on in Washington? Everything else seems so trivial in comparison.”
He doesn’t think viewers are experiencing any sort of fatigue from the subject – even if many of TV’s late-night hosts have placed a heavier accent on Trump jokes and commentary. “I think there’s a difference between perception and reality. And I think if you ask people ‘Have you had enough of this?’ nine out of 10 would say, ‘Yes, I’ve had enough of it.’ And yet, when it comes down to really talking about what’s going on, I think that people, as you can see based on just people looking at cable-news ratings, people can’t get enough.”
Kimmel remains sanguine about late-night TV’s prospects, even if others are making changes to accommodate viewers’ dizzying embrace of time-shifted viewing. The facts are simple: A lot of people simply pass along viral clips of the programs at their leisure rather than watching the shows air around midnight. Conan O’Brien’s TBS program recently went on hiatus so the host could rework the program, which is slated to return in January in a half-hour format and feature more comedy pieces and fewer celebrity interviews.
Despite the rise of new kinds of viewing behaviors, says Kimmel, “the media continues to be focused on the television ratings, when they are a drop in the bucket compared to how many people are watching the show online. It is kind of funny – I guess that’s where the shows make most of their money.”
He estimates “Jimmy Kimmel Live” snares between 30 million and 50 million views on YouTube each week, “and that’s as many as the ‘Tonight Show’ with Johnny Carson in its heyday – and probably more. Other shows are performing similarly. Never before have so many people watched late-night television. So the Internet seems to figure out how to slice the show up and present it, and the idea that we would make the show specifically for the Internet – it just seems unnecessary at this point. We almost are making the show for the Internet.”
Of late-night’s three 11:30 broadcast hosts, Kimmel has the longest tenure. But he says he still has more to do on his program – even if he continues to hurl humorous invective at perennial target Damon (asked to review Damon’s impression of Judge Brett Kavanaugh on a recent “Saturday Night Live,” Kimmel responded “I give him a D+, and I only give him that high a grade because it was just his 60th birthday.”)
He’s interested in getting the artist Banksy to make an appearance on the show. “I think he’s very clever and of course, all the mystery surrounding his identity.” And Kimmel says he’d love to snare Bruce Springsteen – something the show has yet to do.
“We are able to accomplish almost anything we want to do,” Kimmel says. Still, he knows it’s good to have goals. “There have to be a couple of trophies out there,” he adds. “Once you’ve had everyone on, there’s no point in going on.” Brooklyn offers a few more reasons to keep working.