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The Latest Late News

As noted here, Jimmy Kimmel's show is about to move to 11:35. I'm afraid the few times I've watched Mr. Kimmel's show, his appeal has eluded me. I liked him back on Win Ben Stein's Money but it's not all that difficult to be the funniest one on a stage you're sharing with Ben Stein.

As with Conan O'Brien at times, he does a monologue that sounds like he doesn't care about any of those topics and is just reading cue cards out there because it's part of his job description. A friend of mine who watches all the late night shows but isn't wild about any of them made an interesting observation recently. He said, "When Leno finishes his monologue, you can tell that his favorite part of the show is over. And with all the other guys — Dave, Conan, Jimmy and Jimmy — it's the other way around." Craig Ferguson seems to be an exception to every rule. His whole show is like one extended monologue with guests and his robot sidekick joining in for portions of it.

I dunno how Kimmel's show will impact the landscape. The buzz out there, which has been wrong about a lot of stuff in this arena lately, is that he'll take more viewers from Dave than Jay. My guess is something which I see is hinted at in the linked article. I think ABC doesn't really care what his ratings will be like for the foreseeable future. They figure he'll draw enough of an audience, particularly in the young demographic, that they won't lose money. The idea is to position him for the looming (as per "the buzz") shakeup that's coming in that time slot. Eventually, as Dave and Jay slip away, 11:35 may become only a contest for that demographic and Kimmel, they figure, will have become the established leader of that group.

And maybe it'll work like that. But I also have the feeling that the departure of Leno and Letterman isn't as imminent as some think…and that when it does happen, it won't just be a rearrangement of Kimmel, Fallon and Ferguson. I think you'll see names mentioned for 11:35 that aren't even in the discussion yet.

By the way: In my recent piece on Letterman and Leno, I wrote that "Dave…doesn't seem to have anywhere to go, at least professionally, once his show ends." A couple of folks who wrote me about this seem to have missed the part in there about "professionally." They reminded me that Dave has a wife and a kid and a big place in Montana and that he could be quite happy there.

I'm sure he could but what I was saying was that he doesn't seem to have any further aspirations or openings in show business. That was what happened with his hero, Johnny Carson. A lot of folks seem to think that when Johnny left The Tonight Show, he took an immediate blood oath to never appear again before cameras. Not so. On his farewell broadcast, he even said, "And I hope when I find something that I want to do, and I think you would like, and come back, that you'll be as gracious in inviting me into your home as you have been."

He never found anything and it was only after a while that he decided his performing days were over. There really wasn't anything he could do after The Tonight Show that he wanted to do and which wouldn't seem like a few steps down. Once upon a time, he wanted to go from Tonight to a prime-time variety show. He grew up in an era when heroes like Red Skelton and Jack Benny had them and that seemed like the top thing a comedian could do in television. Johnny had had such a show at one point. It flopped and killed his career for a while…and he was at one point quite determined to get another shot and do it right.

But at yet another point further on, he figured out that he didn't want to abandon Tonight for that. It would mean working harder for less money and getting into a form that was dying out. It would also be a big risk, whereas his fame and fortune in late night was still growing. I think one of the reasons Johnny was on for so long was because he couldn't figure out what else to do with himself and wasn't quite ready to retire. And I sure get the feeling that's why Dave is still there.