My colleague Jennifer Brett in Buzz land spent time with Jimmy Kimmel, who visited WSB-TV headquarters Monday to shake hands and kiss babies to promote the fact his late-night talk show next month will be moving 25 minutes earlier to 11:35 p.m., taking that valuable real estate from “Nightline.”
You can read her account here. (We’re all about the cross-promotion here at the AJC, yo!)
Kimmel’s star is on the rise as his ratings have steadily improved over the past nine years.
And he does especially well in Atlanta, the final top 10 market to pick up his show four years after it debuted. I chronicled his journey from 2005 through 2007. Here’s what I wrote in 2005 when I was in Los Angeles for the Television Critics Association press junket and got my first shot to talk to Kimmel: (We’re all about recycling old stories, too!)
Jimmy Kimmel has had a late-night talk show on ABC for two years, but Atlantans would never know it.
WSB-TV prefers to run repeats of “Entertainment Tonight” and the 11 p.m. news at midnight instead because the affiliate says it makes more money that way. That makes Atlanta the largest Kimmel-less market in the United States.
“They’re probably right, but I don’t know why people have to be focused on money all the time, ” Kimmel cracked at the ABC press party Wednesday. “Heck, I do this for free.”
So what are we missing? “We have Oprah on every night, ” he said. “Have you ever heard of Tom Cruise? Ever heard of John Travolta? Every night they’re on the show. Oprah is our announcer.”
More seriously, he added: “I think a letter-writing campaign is the best course of action, but I don’t think anybody will do it. It’s hard to get excited about a show you’ve never seen.”
Then again, Kimmel said, “I might have to kidnap the general manager’s pet.”
In 2007, WSB-TV finally picked Kimmel up. I was invited to meet Kimmel at Twist at Phipps Plaza. Here was the July 27, 2007 Peach Buzz item I wrote:
After ignoring him for more than four years, WSB-TV embraced Jimmy Kimmel Thursday, flying him into Atlanta to meet and greet staff and clients at the TV station, feeding him at Blue Ridge Grill and plying him with drinks at Twist in Phipps Plaza. That’s where we caught him with his agent and various ABC reps for a victory toast. WSB-TV was the last major market station to add “Jimmy Kimmel Live, ” his late-night talk show, to its lineup a couple weeks ago.
When WSB-TV invited him to come, he took two days off to do so. And the station kept him and his staff at the Four Seasons, where Jon Bon Jovi was staying, too. At the party, he opened by jokingly saying, “You may not know me but I’m Jimmy Kimmel. And I’m the new quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons.”
At Twist, a WSB-TV “Hot Topics” cameraman followed him around as he shook hands with various fans and non fans who had never really seen him before.
“I have no idea who he is, ” acknowledged Whitney Pelletier, a hairstylist from Marietta, who nonetheless got her photo taken with him.
Another drunk woman, while I spoke with him, came up and said her daughter knew him and said he was Johnny Carson. “Oh, I’m not Johnny, ” he said patiently. “He’s dead.” (A publicist eventually shooed the woman away after he signed an autograph on a napkin for said daughter.)
Others did know him and congratulated him for finally arriving in Atlanta.
Mark Borders had emailed WSB-TV a few years ago complaining about the absence of Kimmel. Amazingly, management saved the email and invited them to hang out at Twist Thursday night to meet him. He sat and spoke with them for a few minutes, then went out of his way to make sure they got pictures. While some of his staff drank heavy, Kimmel nursed an Amstel Light before cutting out at about 12:20 a.m.
Michael Canali just moved from D.C. to Chamblee a month ago and brought his fiance Candice Dandurand to the table to give Kimmel props.
Among his entourage was the head of late night programming for ABC, his agent and Uncle Sal, a regular on his show who is actually Kimmel’s cousin. Oh, and Larry Wachs, formerly of the Regular Guys, who befriended Kimmel when Wachs worked in Los Angeles. Wachs is still seeking a job in a tough environment for edgy talk-show hosts like him.
And I did a Q&A with him that was in the print edition July 10, 2007:
For more than four years, Atlantans would catch an occasional glimpse of Jimmy Kimmel on a prime-time special, on “Dancing With the Stars, ” subbing for Regis. But nobody could see him on his regular late-night talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live” — until tonight
WSB-TV has finally added Kimmel’s show, which has seen steadily improving ratings nationwide, averaging 1.7 million viewers a night.
Until now, WSB-TV management has aired repeats of “Entertainment Tonight” at 12:05 a.m. and then repeated the 11 p.m. news, saying it made the station more money.
Atlanta, in fact, has been the largest Kimmel-less market in the country.
We recently caught up with a joyous Kimmel.
Q: We in Atlanta hear you have this late-night talk show. Congratulations! What have you been up to the past few years?
A: I’ve been taking it easy, studying Pilates, keeping in shape. Seriously, we started almost five years ago. [ABC] told us, we’ll get the Atlanta situation taken care of soon. They’d say the same thing every six months. Eventually, they’d call, and we’d laugh at them.
Q: Did you consider bribing the WSB-TV station manager or flying down to Atlanta and begging in person?
A: I considered all those things. But I was told it didn’t have to do with me. There was a much larger negotiation going on.
Q: So how does it feel to finally be here?
A: It’s a big deal for us. Atlanta is a huge market. WSB is, like, the best ABC station out there. When we get our national ratings, they don’t care you’re not in Atlanta. We get a zero there. It’s like nobody is watching. I’m delighted to finally get this settled.
Q: What did we miss those four-plus years?
A: You missed the golden era of the show that will never be duplicated. Hopefully, they’ll have a DVD for you of the first 900 episodes. A big boxed set! You actually missed all the struggling parts and the parts where we couldn’t get guests. I’d have my buddy Adam Corolla on every six days. It was craziness every night. It was more like wrestling than a late-night talk show.
Q: When did the turning point happen?
A: When we got a big star, we’d be dancing in the streets. I think when people did come in, they’d have a good experience and come back. Robin Williams has been on the show five times. People like that, once they start doing the show, others felt they could, too.
Q: Who is your audience?
A: Fat people. We find we have the fattest audience in late night. It’s pretty evenly split between men and women. It’s actually a little more women than men. It shocks people we’re not “The Man Show” [the Comedy Central show he hosted before his talk show that celebrated the dude perspective]. I think if they are looking for that, they’d be sorely disappointed
Q: Are there any guests you think you’ll be able to get now that you’re in Atlanta?.
A: I had T.I. on the show a few days ago. We have a lot of guests from Atlanta that no one there has seen. We have more hip-hop artists than the other shows.
Q: You had an appendectomy on June 20. Just a few days later, WSB-TV signed you on. Coincidence?
A: They told me: Get rid of that appendix, you’re on. It worked!
Q: Who’s on the first night you air in Atlanta?
A: Nick Lachey, Reggie Bush and Flight of the Conchords, the guys from HBO.
Q: Will you give Atlanta a shout out?
A: We’ll definitely do something specific for Atlanta.