Jimmy Kimmel, the Host With a Host of Questions

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, July 17, 2008

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., July 16

"I can't believe that they're going to let this guy go at the top of his game!" ABC Entertainment chief Steve McPherson told The Reporters Who Cover Television and critics in re NBC late-night host Jay Leno, who is contractually obligated to exit "The Tonight Show" next year.

Two days earlier on his show, Leno had held up a newspaper's Sunday TV magazine with a cover photo of himself and the headline "Tonight Show Starring Jay Leno on ABC" and cracked, "It's like a headline from the future!"

Kicking off ABC's first day at the Thank God We're Still Working Summer TV Press Tour 2008, McPherson cleverly seized control of the inevitable questions about his network's interest in Leno by planting its current late-night host Jimmy Kimmel in the press gaggle as a reporter for the Sarasota Star-Herald Tribune:

Kimmel: "There are rumors that ABC is actively courting Jay Leno for 11:30. Is there any truth to those rumors?"

McPherson: "I don't really feel comfortable answering that in this forum."

Kimmel: "If anything were, God forbid, to happen, would that mean -- would Ted Koppel get fired, or how would that work?" He was, of course, referring to the ex-anchor of ABC newsmag "Nightline," which now serves as the lead-in for Kimmel's 12:05 a.m. talker.

McPherson: "Yeah. It would be doomsday for Ted."

Given TRWCT's general hysteria over late-night TV developments, it was admittedly a risky joke -- kind of like that New Yorker cover picturing Barack Obama in Muslim garb giving a "terrorist fist bump" to his machine-gun-toting wife. But, in truth, the longtime "Nightline" host exited the show in 2005 and now works for Discovery; he's also a contributor for BBC America's news operation.

ABC was pilloried in the media in 2002 when TRWCT got wind of ABC-parent Disney's effort to snag CBS late-night host David Letterman for the "Nightline" time slot.

Six years later, minus Koppel and with a new format, "Nightline" is less revered, making a late-night scheduling shuffle much less controversial for ABC.

Kimmel: "If you were even to talk to Jay Leno, wouldn't that be, like, contract tampering? Wouldn't that be illegal? Couldn't you go to jail for that?"

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