ON EVE OF TIME-SLOT SWITCH, JIMMY’S ACTING LIKE A JERK
By ADAM BUCKMAN
Nobody likes a big mouth.
And suddenly, Jimmy Kimmel has grown the biggest mouth in show business.
And he’s been shooting it off at just the wrong time too — just when he’s on the verge of a high-profile switch to an earlier time slot where he (and more importantly, ABC) hopes to win new fans.
For some reason, Kimmel has adopted a bizarre strategy for his assault on the 11:35 p.m. hour that consists of two parts that are diametrically opposed.
One part seems to be: Attack Jay Leno without mercy.
And the other part is: Kiss up to David Letterman — also without mercy.
The problem is: Both tactics are tanking.
Kimmel’s attacks on Leno — who has earned hundreds of millions of dollars from a standup-comedy style that Kimmel apparently doesn’t care for — make Kimmel seem like a jerk. It’s doubtful his attacks will persuade anyone to ditch the “Leno” show in favor of “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
And his kissing up to Letterman has only succeeded in making Letterman squirm every time he encounters him.
Ever since last summer, Kimmel’s been on an anti-Leno tear, starting with the f-bomb he dropped in August at the mere mention of Leno’s name during a public appearance in New York. Then there have been all the subsequent instances — particularly in recent weeks — when Kimmel seemed to go out of his way to tell interviewers that he dislikes Leno, disrespects Leno’s comedy, and derisively compares Leno to “Jason,” the unkillable psycho-killer from the “Friday the 13th” movies.
In his most recent attack, in the cover-story interview he gave Rolling Stone magazine, Kimmel inexplicably accused Leno of “selling out,” and boldly declared that Leno hasn’t “been a good stand-up in 20 years.” Selling out? The only things Leno seems to sell out are clubs, casino venues, theaters and playhouses across the United States. As for Leno’s abilities as a stand-up, the 3.3 million people who watch his monologues every night on “The Tonight Show” — as well as those who buy all the tickets to see him perform — would seem to disagree with Kimmel.
As a matter of fact, Kimmel’s boyhood (and, apparently, adulthood) idol David Letterman disagrees with Kimmel too. Letterman told Oprah Winfrey in the interview that just aired last weekend on OWN that Jay Leno is “the funniest guy” that Letterman has ever known. “Just flat out,” Letterman stated unequivocally in the Oprah interview, “if you go to see [Leno] do his night club act, [he's] just the funniest, the smartest — wonderful observations — and very appealing as a comic.”
What does Letterman think of Kimmel? “He’s a nice kid,” Letterman answered condescendingly when Charlie Rose asked him about Kimmel in the interview they did last month. A “nice kid”? If that wasn’t an outright dismissive assessment of Kimmel, then it was at least a sign that Letterman hasn’t spent more than 30 seconds thinking about Kimmel in his entire life.
Letterman acknowledged that “nice kid” Kimmel has been nice to him. “[He's] been very gracious to me to the point where it’s made me self-conscious,” Letterman told Rose.
Indeed, Kimmel’s gushing over Letterman made Dave visibly uncomfortable when Letterman was Kimmel’s guest on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in October in Brooklyn. Then, when Kimmel saluted Letterman at “The Kennedy Center Honors” in Washington last month — with his stories about his adolescent worship of Letterman — a CBS camera caught Dave grimacing.
As for Kimmel’s intense dislike of Leno, the world is still waiting to hear a credible answer to a key question: Why? I asked Kimmel that question in a conference call last month and you know what his answer was? He didn’t like the way Jay won “The Tonight Show” back in ’92, beating out Kimmel’s idol — Letterman — for the job.
Here’s what Kimmel said that day: “For me, when the book ‘The Late Shift’ came out [New York Times reporter Bill Carter's 1994 book about Leno and Letterman's battle to succeed Johnny Carson], I realized that Jay had schemed to take something from someone that I admired. I mean, that’s what did it for me, I guess.”
To which I wish I would have said: Jimmy, you’ve got to be kidding me. What do you care about the battle over the “Carson” show when even Jay and Dave have put it behind them? It’s old news.
The bottom line is this: The “Kimmel” show still lags far behind Jay and Dave in the ratings. For the fourth quarter of 2012, the average nightly viewership for each of them was: Leno, 3.5 million; Letterman, 3.1 million; and Kimmel, 1.9 million.
On Tuesday night, Kimmel joins the 11:35 battle against two guys who have been doing it a lot longer than he has. At its very foundation, the battle is about likability. But Kimmel — with his attacks on Leno and his sophomoric brown-nosing of Letterman — is looking very unlikable at the very moment when he desperately needs to be liked.
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