Jimmy Kimmel announced Thursday night that he’s going to take the summer off.
His ABC late-night show will air reruns for the next two weeks, then have guest hosts through July and August. Although Kimmel had celebrities cover for him in 2017 when his baby son had to have emergency surgery, I don’t think anyone else in late-night has done that since David Letterman was forced off the air in 2000 by his heart bypass surgery, and again in 2003 when he had shingles.
By the way, as with Conan O’Brien shrinking the length of his show, I think doing a half-hour instead of a full hour has been a positive for Kimmel, particularly during this working-from-home phase. As I’ve written before, thanks to Kimmel’s radio background, he’s much better than his rivals at doing a tighter monologue that doesn’t rely on live audience feedback (the same applies to having guests in remote locations). Plus, he no longer has to fill a later segment with lesser public figures, most of whom are far from money-in-the-bank interviewees.
After 18 years on the air, ABC obviously continues to consider Kimmel a big asset. In addition to his late-night show, he produced the live reboots of Norman Lear’s classic sitcoms that garnered very good ratings last year in primetime. In addition, Kimmel will host this fall’s Emmy Awards telecast (in whatever form that takes), and he’ll be back in the host chair when “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” starts a weekly Sunday night run.
If ABC is thinking ahead, it will urge the producers of Kimmel’s late-night show to lean towards Black and female guest hosts, one of whom could eventually start up a new late-night franchise for ABC to follow his show. There hasn’t been a major network late-night show hosted by a woman since Joan Rivers’ “Late Show” was cancelled by Fox 32 years ago. I’m not counting Lilly Singh (whose “A Little Late” does air on NBC, but is really terrible and has very few viewers) or Samantha Bee (whose “Full Frontal” remains wonderful, but airs in primetime on TBS only once a week).
ABC could easily dump “Nightline” to debut a companion show to Kimmel’s. The news program has been essentially irrelevant for a long time, a tepid time-killer compared to its must-see status in the ’80s and ’90s under anchor and managing editor Ted Koppel, one of TV’s all-time great communicators. He was also the only broadcaster I know who regularly uttered this phrase: “I want to alert our affiliates that we’re going a little bit long tonight.”
Koppel used to say that whenever the topic and guests on an episode of “Nightline” were so compelling they needed more than the assigned 30 minutes to cover — and viewers usually stuck with it. The alert was really a heads-up message to the control room operators at ABC’s local stations who had to make sure the automated switching systems didn’t cut away from the show before it was over.
At the time, “Nightline” was the last thing on the network’s schedule each weeknight, followed on local stations by whatever syndicated fare they ran until sign-off (which also isn’t a thing anymore!). So, Koppel’s decision to stay on for another five, ten, fifteen minutes wasn’t bumping anything important, but it still took some adjustment by those local techs.
Though Koppel hasn’t been associated with “Nightline” for fifteen years, I doubt he’d agree with my suggestion that ABC cancel it in favor of another comedian or entertainer getting the airtime. After all, these were his last words on the final episode of “Nightline” he anchored on November 22, 2005:
There’s this quiz I give to some of our young interns when they first arrive at Nightline. I didn’t do it with the last batch; it’s a little too close to home. “How many of you”, I’ll ask, “can tell me anything about Eric Sevareid?” Blank stares. “How about Howard K. Smith or Frank Reynolds?” Not a twitch of recognition. “Chet Huntley? John Chancellor?” Still nothing. “David Brinkley” sometimes causes a hand or two to be raised, and Walter Cronkite may be glad to learn that a lot of young people still have a vague recollection that he once worked in television news.
What none of these young men and women in their late teens and early twenties appreciates, until I point it out to them, is that they have just heard the names of seven anchormen or commentators who were once so famous that everyone in the country knew their names. Everybody.
Trust me, the transition from one anchor to another is not that big a deal. Cronkite begat Rather, Chancellor begat Brokaw, Reynolds begat Jennings. And each of them did a pretty fair job in his own right. You’ve always been very nice to me, so give this new anchor team for Nightline a fair break. If you don’t, I promise you the network will just put another comedy show in this time slot. And then you’ll be sorry.
That’s our report for tonight, I’m Ted Koppel in Washington, [and] from all of us here at ABC News, good night.
I would argue that in 2020, there is no TV news anchor, on any network, who rises to the stature of the men that Koppel mentioned. Moreover, in the modern era, I can’t think of a single broadcast personality who has the power to tell the affiliates “we’re going to run over.”
Or any show that would demand it.