Late night TV just got a wake-up call. ABC has announced that Jimmy Kimmel , best known as the co-host of “Win Ben Stein’s Money” (we kid) will soon compete with icons David Letterman and Jay Leno in the coveted 11:35pm time slot. ABC’s strategy is based on a stark but undeniable fact: As Letterman and Leno age, so do their viewers. Letterman, in fact, has agreed only to extend his contract through 2014–just long enough to best Johnny Carson’s on-air record—and Leno recently consented to a much-publicized pay cut and staff reduction.
But this isn’t your father’s 11:35pm time slot. No longer is it a lonely post-news netherworld for budding insomniacs and beleaguered parents looking to steal a drink and a laugh before bed. Today, the nightly monologue must compete with Call of Duty, Twitter surfing, Funny or Die marathons and the endless distractions emanating from our iPads and digital televisions. (At least we can still do all these things with a cocktail in hand.)
With an increase in options, however, comes a decrease in loyalty–and younger generations aren’t bonding with TV personalities like the generations that revered anchors like Walter Cronkite and late night personalities like Johnny Carson. Jimmy Kimmel is staring into the abyss, but he’s cool with that–and he should be. The present is an exciting time for late night television because the TV medium is evolving, too. The act of integrating emerging technologies into traditional programming formats offers unprecedented ways to interact with viewers. Just ask Jimmy Fallon, whose popular Twitter #hashtag contests garner hilarious responses from viewers while creating a passionate fan base and offering his writing staff an enjoyable reprieve from the anxiety of actually doing their jobs.
Will the American public bond with Jimmy Kimmel, and late night television, like it has in the past? Let’s hope so, because late night television is that rare venue in which everybody–politicians, public figures, Western society in general—gets skewered in occasionally funny ways.
Good luck, Mr. Kimmel. We feel like you told a decent joke around 2005 or so, but we can’t seem to remember what it was about. Oh well.