To celebrate its 20th anniversary next week, ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” is going back to the beginning. The late-night series will air a special episode in primetime on Thursday, January 26, featuring guests from the original premiere in 2003: George Clooney, Snoop Dogg and Coldplay.
The special will air that night at 10 p.m. ET, and then repeat again in the normal “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” slot at 11:35 p.m. That marks 20 years to the day that the show premiered, on Sunday, January 26, 2003.
“As everybody might imagine, it feels like it went by in the blink of an eye and it also feels like it’s been going on since the Middle Ages,” Kimmel tells Variety. “But it definitely gives me a sense of accomplishment. Especially when you go back and watch some of the old shows and you’re like, ‘wow, this is this is very unprofessional.’ Those nights where we thought that was a pretty good show, we were extremely wrong!”
Kimmel had been known as the co-host of Comedy Central’s “The Man Show,” the sidekick on the gameshow “Win Ben Stein’s Money,” a contributor on Fox NFL Sunday and (at least here in Los Angeles) as “Jimmy the Sports Guy” on KROQ-FM’s “Kevin & Bean Show” before he landed the late-night slot on ABC – the gig of his dreams.
In those days, “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” aired at 12:05 a.m., after “Nightline,” and in the slot that had previously been held on the Alphabet net by “Politically Incorrect.” The Jan. 26 premiere date was chosen because ABC held the rights to Super Bowl XXXVII – Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. the Oakland Raiders. The “Alias” episode “Phase One” was the lead-out show on ABC that year, and it started late: 11:15 p.m. That means the “Jimmy Kimmel Live” show also started late that night.
For the inaugural episode, all three guests were a big get – and, as Kimmel notes, they have maintained their stature at the level that they’re still considered big gets in 2023. “If you watch the first show, apparently I said about Coldplay, ‘We wanted somebody that we’d still be proud we had on the show and 20 years,’” Kimmel says. “That’s kind of cool, considering that that’s exactly what happened.”
Clooney made that first-night “Jimmy Kimmel Live” appearance in 2003 to promote his new film “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” and Kimmel believes the star got some extra promo time during the Super Bowl as a result. Meanwhile, Clooney’s rep Stan Rosenfield was a fan of “The Man Show,” including Kimmel.
Clooney has made several appearances on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” over the years, including the show’s post-Oscars specials. His most recent projects include the film “Ticket to Paradise.”
As for Snoop Dogg, he became the first participant in a brief experiment early on by Kimmel to bring on guest co-hosts (or sidekicks) that he could riff with during the show. Kimmel and Snoop had gone back to his KROQ days, and the two had worked on many things since then. “We just happen to have great chemistry,” Kimmel says. “That was the one guest I knew going in.”
The sidekick idea didn’t last long, but it did also bring on Kathy Griffin, Janeane Garofalo and Adam Carolla (Kimmel’s “Man Show” partner) among others. (The first week of Snoop Dogg episodes required ABC censors to be fast on their toes as they bleeped Snoop — and covered his face – during the live broadcasts.)
Kimmel believes it’s serendipity that the original guests were able to return, and although it was a bit tricky logistically, they made it work.
“It’s kind of perfect really is what it is.,” he says. “It’s like a do over… everybody’s schedules. we managed to piece it together. Snoop Dogg is always the funniest because he’s so laconic. You wouldn’t think he would get excited about something. But he’s interestingly sentimental and enthusiastic. I heard he was sitting in his dressing room watching the monologue and just getting really excited about the fact that this was happening.”
The first “Jimmy Kimmel Live” is also remembered for an ambitious stunt: With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers winning the Super Bowl that evening, the plan was to have a live satellite hookup for winning coach Jon Gruden to talk to Kimmel. Gruden didn’t show up – but defensive tackle Warren Sapp flew in a helicopter from San Diego — where the Big Game was held — to the Hollywood High School football field (steps away from Kimmel’s studio next door to the El Capitan theater).
“I remember having to get special air space clearance to land Warren Sapp on the football field of Hollywood High School,” Kimmel recalls. “So after the game, he got on a helicopter and flew to LA, landed on the field and came and did our show. Which was kind of cool.”
Kimmel recently extended his contract to keep hosting “Jimmy Kimmel Live” through its 23rd season on ABC. Kimmel, Erin Irwin, Molly McNearney, Jennifer Sharron and David Craig are executive producers; Douglas DeLuca is co-executive producer. “Jimmy Kimmel Live” is produced by 1205 AM Productions LLC in association with Kimmelot and ABC Signature.