Jimmy Kimmel Premieres Sunday on ABC
NEW YORK (AP) √≥ Jimmy Kimmel is live, devouring a burger at a Manhattan steakhouse and talking about his ABC late-night show.
“Jimmy Kimmel Live” premieres with a special post-Super Bowl telecast Sunday night, then continues Mondays through Fridays in the time slot right after “Nightline,” which in no way it resembles. (For starters, “Nightline” isn’t always live and anchorman Ted Koppel doesn’t fancy flannel shirts.)
“Jimmy Kimmel Live” will air from Hollywood’s El Capitan Theater as “the first live nightly talk show in over 40 years,” according to ABC publicity. (Which maybe it is, if you don’t count Joan Rivers on Fox 16 years ago, for all of six months.)
The late-night failure rate is high. Think of Chevy Chase, canned after six miserable weeks in 1993.
“When he came on, a lot of people thought he was going to be really good,” says Kimmel. “That’s what worries me, about ME!”
But he doesn’t look worried. As Kimmel speaks between bites, he seems relaxed, perhaps a little sleepy (jet lag). Even though just days remain before opening night.
And even though his specialty, up to now, has been bad-boy talk radio and, more recently on cable, playing guru to the guy brigade √≥ most notably, as a creator and host of Comedy Central’s “The Man Show,” where he reveled in something he promises he won’t bring to his new show: buxom girls on trampolines.
Despite this note of restraint, he aims to bring an unaccustomed bounce to late-night talk-variety. And he guarantees his studio audience an open bar.
The challenge: broadening his appeal beyond his guy laity and viewers who know him from Comedy Central’s “Win Ben Stein’s Money” and Fox’s NFL pregame show √≥ and maybe even holding on to “Nightline” nerds with his maverick style.
“I don’t believe that lack of intelligence and appreciation for lowbrow comedy go hand-in-hand necessarily,” he says.
Meanwhile, ABC is promoting Kimmel as “Late Night Fresh.”
“Fresh?!” he groans. “There’s nothing less fresh than the word `fresh.'”
Maybe he’s just feeling a little pressure.
“I feel a lot,” he says. “It’s like when I was in college and I was a wedding DJ. Even though it was just a job for me, each time I knew if I screw it up, if my record skips or my equipment blows out, I’ve screwed up someone’s wedding. The pressure was really intense.”
Now 35, Kimmel is still a hard worker, a trait that contradicts the party-hardy image he took to cartoonish extremes on “The Man Show.”
“You want to make it look easy and fun,” he says. “The best time I had this year was my buddy’s bachelor party. We went up to Lake Tahoe √≥ 12 guys in a cabin for three days. I think that’s what people imagine that I am, and it’s what I like to be.
“But when I’m at work, there’s stuff that has to be taken care of, and I’m involved in every little thing.”
So maybe it’s like Fred Astaire gliding across the floor with Ginger Rogers in all those movies √≥ whereas, behind the scenes, he painstakingly choreographed every step.
“Yeah,” says Kimmel gamely. “A hairy, fat Fred Astaire √≥ that’s a good analogy.
“But the only responsibility I feel is to try to be as original as possible, and not to ever steal anything. And that’s been a challenge for me, through my whole career, to not be overly derivative of Letterman. I have to make sure that I don’t. Because everybody that matters will know it.”
Kimmel is an unabashed fan of David Letterman. But there are other broadcasters he admires √≥ particularly Mike Douglas, a daytime TV talk pioneer whose guests ran the gamut and who, to keep things fresh, teamed up with a different celebrity co-host for a week at a time.
Kimmel, too, will book weeklong celebrity co-hosts. (First week: Snoop Dogg.)
Another policy he’s borrowing: “No cards with questions on them! Mike Douglas just did the interview, just went with things. It’s not like that on talk shows anymore. They’re pretty regimented, very highly produced.
“He was real good,” Kimmel affectionately says. “I remember pretending to be sick because Steve Garvey was gonna be on `Mike Douglas’ and I wanted to see it. Staying home from school is a great association with Mike Douglas.”
A Brooklyn native, Kimmel grew up in Las Vegas, where he and his pals “took advantage of everything the city has to offer. There was no rule that said you had to be a tourist to eat a $2 steak dinner at the Horseshoe √≥ every night for like 35 nights in a row one summer. That’s Vegas!”
Leap forward a few years and Kimmel is a rising TV star about to invade the late-night kingdom. But fame and fortune can’t undo those formative years or compromise the inner guy that got him where he is. Not Kimmel, who savors memories of a $2 steak while feasting on a burger that costs 12 bucks.
Jimmy Kimmel Premieres Sunday on ABC