Why Did ‘Nightline’ Get Demoted? The Answer Is Pretty Simple: Jimmy Kimmel Wanted 11:35 PM

By Alex Weprin Comment

For years now there have been rumors that ABC would swap “Nightline” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” In 2013, it will finally happen. The reason is very simple: Jimmy Kimmel has wanted the 11:35  PM timeslot pretty much since he started at the network, and ABC finally decided to bet on him rather than the long-running ABC News program.

Two sources close to Kimmel tell me that the change came as a direct result of Kimmel getting a new, long-term contract extension at ABC. Kimmel demanded 11:35, or said he would walk, and ABC acquiesced. When Kimmel last signed a new contract with ABC in late 2010, ABC cut “Nightline” by five minutes to make room for Kimmel. This was the next logical step.

While “Nightline” is a very successful program both editorially and financially (ABC holds it up internally as one to emulate), the network simply bet that it could make more money in the long-term from Kimmel at 11:30 than it could from “Nightline.”

The move makes sense for Kimmel, who can now compete head to head with Jay Leno and David Letterman in a late night environment more competitive than ever. For ABC, if Kimmel succeeds in the timeslot he will bring in “substantially” more revenue that “Nightline” did, a source explains.

Inside ABC News, staffers are–understandably–said to be “devastated” by the decision, according to someone close to the program. ABC News president Ben Sherwood is holding meetings with staff this afternoon to try and answer questions about the move.

ABC News is arguing that the new deal for “Nightline” is a positive. The program is actually expanding in late night (to the full half hour it used to have until last year) and that it will be getting an hour a week in primetime starting in March:

When “Nightline” lost five minutes last year, it was given a primetime slot in the Summer of 2011 to make up for that lost time. This year, “Nightline” had no presence in primetime, but the show was still only 25 minutes.

The new “Nightline” primetime presence is a similar make-good to save face. ABC News is not expected to add primetime hours in the long-term, one of my sources says. I would bet that come 2014, Jimmy Kimmel is still at 11:35, “Nightline” is still at 12:35, and ABC News has the same number of primetime hours it has this year. Whether those hours are branded as being from “Nightline” is largely irrelevant. ABC is promising that “What Would You Do?” will remain on the schedule, though the network could burn it off on Saturday nights if it wanted to to fulfill that obligation.

Update: ABC says that unlike the 2011 primetime specials, which were always billed as specials, the new Friday edition of the program has a permanent spot on the network’s schedule, at least through the end of the TV season. ABS also took issue with my use of the word “deceptive” in an earlier version of this story. I removed that word because I don’t believe it was a fair descriptor in this case.