If you’d have told aspiring comedian Jimmy Kimmel years ago that one day he would compete on network television with his professional idol, David Letterman, he would’ve laughed. Guffawed, even.
Kimmel, who has a vanity plate on his car that reads “L8NITE” in tribute to the crusty elder statesman of the genre, said last November that Letterman was “the main reason I got into television” and also “the main reason I got a television.”
But as of early January of this year, his 10-year-old talk show, ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” started airing head-to-head with CBS’ “Late Night With David Letterman” and NBC’s “Tonight Show With Jay Leno.” Letterman even welcomed Kimmel to the battle for audience share during his first (and only) appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” late in 2012.
“Jimmy Kimmel Live” displaced the venerable news program “Nightline,” moving up an hour from 12:35 a.m. to 11:35 p.m., where ABC executives said they wanted a stronger foothold with young viewers.
The move capped a big year for Kimmel, who landed high-profile gigs hosting the Emmy Awards and the White House Correspondent’s Dinner.
“It’s exciting, but it’s also nerve-wracking,” Kimmel told the L.A. Times about the three-way network face-off.
Along with giving Kimmel a plum spot on the schedule, ABC executives told him he didn’t have to change his edgy approach to comedy, he told The Times.
The 44-year-old baby-faced comic honed that sensibility on cable, where he co-hosted “The Man Show” with friend Adam Carolla. The half-hour was perhaps best known for testosterone-fueled jokes, on-set beer drinking and scantily clad women jumping on trampolines.
Kimmel, a Brooklyn native who grew up in Las Vegas, also had been a sidekick on Comedy Central’s “Win Ben Stein’s Money,” for which he won a Daytime Emmy with Stein for game show host.
For a guy who’s embroiled in a major TV war, Kimmel has some decidedly low-key off-hours pursuits.
He’s an avid fly fisherman, a foodie and home chef who’s collected more than a thousand cookbooks. He’s also an amateur farmer (he tends a chicken coop he built next to his West Hollywood home).
And he’ll try not to overstay his welcome on TV, though the length of the visit isn’t yet known.
“I’m not going to be one of those guys that they have to drag off the stage,” he told The Times. “I mean, I look at it now and I think, ‘You know, if we were lucky enough to be able to do another 10 years, I would be very happy with that.’ ”