There Goes the Neighborhood: Kimmel to Move to 11:35 p.m.

ABC talk-show host to take on Letterman, Leno

Jimmy Kimmel is taking a seat at the grown-ups’ table, where he’ll square off with the senior members of the late-night establishment.

Beginning Jan. 8, 2013, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! will move to the 11:35 p.m. time slot, directly opposite Late Show With David Letterman and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.

The move will send the unsinkable Nightline to 12:35 a.m., although ABC will try to compensate for the inconvenience by programming a one-hour edition of the news program in the Friday 9 p.m. slot currently reserved for Shark Tank. Nightline’s prime-time show will premiere in March.

Sending Kimmel to do battle with the graying NBC and CBS franchises is a matter of striking while the iron is relatively toasty. JKL in 2011-12 was the only late-night show that grew its overall deliveries over the prior season, improving 3 percent in total viewers. By comparison, Leno was down 4 percent year over year and Letterman dropped 10 percent.

Broadcast’s other youth-friendly late-night show, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon (NBC), was flat versus the 2010-11 season.

While Kimmel will offer an alternative to the twin monoliths of Letterman and Leno, JKL has a way to go before it can be said to stand on equal footing with either program. While the Tonight Show draws north of 3.7 million viewers per night and Late Night averages 3.2 million, JKL’s average turnout is roughly half that (1.8 million). A similar disparity holds sway in the 18-49 demo.

Meanwhile, in its current 25-minute incarnation (11:35 p.m.-midnight), Nightline outpaces Leno and Letterman, drawing 3.9 million viewers per night.

“Given the passionate fan base Jimmy Kimmel Live has built over the past decade and the show’s ratings and creative momentum this season, the time is right to make this move,” said Disney ABC Television Group president Anne Sweeney, by way of announcing the shift.

Kimmel’s move will be heavily promoted the night before, during ABC sibling ESPN’s coverage of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) national title game.

Media buyers estimate that JKL last season generated around $148 million in ad sales revenue, or about one quarter of what Letterman and Leno took in altogether. 

While the earlier time slot should draw higher CPMs, it’s unlikely that it will be enough to placate actor Matt Damon, who bears the unfortunate distinction of being the most “bumped” talk show guest in television history. 

The time switch will occur two weeks before JKL’s official 10-year anniversary. The show began on Jan. 26, 2003, moving into the slot vacated by the canceled Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher