Jimmy Kimmel told me in early January that he has never been to Buffalo.
After looking at the local late-night ratings for the February sweeps, he might consider coming here on his next publicity tour.
In his first sweeps period since taking over the 11:35 p.m. time slot from “Nightline” on ABC affiliate Channel 7, Kimmel’s program (2.5 rating) was a poor third in household ratings here to David Letterman’s “Late Show” (4.5 ) on CBS affiliate Channel 4 and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” (3.9) on NBC affiliate Channel 2.
Some asterisks should come with the ratings. Kimmel is being carried on Channel 7, the weakest network affiliate in town and that doesn’t help. His rating also is close to the 2.7 that “Nightline” averaged here in the time slot a year ago and 65 percent higher than Kimmel averaged when his show aired at 12:05 a.m.
Additionally, ABC isn’t looking for Kimmel to drive household ratings. It wants him to grab viewers in the age 18-49 demographic that the 45-year-old host will leave in less than five years. He reportedly was very competitive nationally in that demo.
(THIS JUST IN: ABC reported this morning that Kimmel was only 28,000 viewers behind Letterman and only 108,000 behind Leno nationally in that demo during the February sweeps. The local demo numbers haven’t arrived but they are bound to be better than “Nightline” scored in the time slot a year ago. WNY has a high rate of viewers over age 50 who are more apt to watch “Nightline,” but advertisers are less concerned about them because they are more likely to have decided what they want to buy.)
“All we care about is 18-49,” said Kimmel in an interview January in Hollywood with about 20 critics hovering over him. “That’s really all the network cares about. Not to say I don’t care about people under 18 or over 49. And I am headed into that category myself. That’s what they sell, so that’s all that really seems to matter.”
“I remember well my first paying job in Seattle. Our target audience was 25-54 and I was 21 and not even in the target audience and I felt very out of place then. And I’m sure in six or seven years I’ll feel out of place here, too. Luckily, I am very immature.”
Of course, it isn’t about Kimmel’s age any more than it is about Leno’s or Letterman’s age. Leno and Letterman probably could host their late-night shows until they are 80 as long as people under 50 still find them funny. It is about the age of their audience. After all, network TV is all about making money and the 18-49 demo is where the ad money is more plentiful.
Back in January, I told Kimmel about his lead-in problems in Buffalo and asked him if it concerned him or if he had any advice for Channel 7 to get out the audience.
“Lead-in is a big deal,” acknowledged Kimmel “It is not like ‘they better get their act together in Buffalo.’ I’m sure they are trying just as hard as we are.”
“I would like to come to Buffalo,” added Kimmel. “I hear the Anchor Bar has the best wings in the world. If they would leave a trail of wings from Los Angeles to Buffalo, I would probably follow it straight there.”
Leno has tasted Buffalo chicken wings on visits here several times. His picture is plastered on area restaurant walls sampling their food. It no longer seems to be helping him attract viewers here. A year ago, Leno beat Letterman decisively here in household ratings. Now Letterman is on top by a good margin. It would seem to indicate that Kimmel’s entry into the late-night wars has hurt Leno and helped Letterman more here.
NBC executives have messed up late-night for years starting with the ill-fated Conan O’Brien experiment and the quick return of Leno to “The Tonight Show.” The ouster of O’Brien hurt Leno’s already-damaged, nice guy image and made him a bigger bad guy in some quarters.
Now it appears the bad guy is about to get his comeuppance as reports have surfaced that NBC plans to move Jimmy Fallon into the late-night spot next year. There is no clamoring here for Fallon. In February, he finished third in the 12:35 a.m. time slot on Channel 2 behind Craig Ferguson’s “Late, Late Show” on Channel 4 and “Nightline” on Channel 7.
Still the Fallon-for Leno move makes sense to astute late-night observers who have written about how competitive Kimmel was nationally with the 18-49 crowd in February (he also beat Letterman in the 18-34 demo) and believe that NBC is concerned that he will own that important audience for years if it doesn’t do something and fast.
If anything, it is somewhat surprising that NBC plans to wait until 2014 to replace Leno with Fallon. Why wait and give Kimmel more time to own the 18-49 audience?
Kimmel waited a long time to get the 11:35 time slot. He admitted in Los Angeles he thought about getting the time slot for a while.
“I think when Ted Koppel left (“Nightline”) we started thinking about it honestly,” said Kimmel. “Because he was Ted Koppel and you wouldn’t think of replacing him.”
“I never asked (ABC) (for the slot). Never once. I made it known I felt I was ready. They kind of suddenly did it. … I was very happy to be in my time slot for 10 years because it allowed me time to develop the show instead of what usually happens — you have to develop the show under the hot spotlight of a premiere.”
His dream now is to get some big names on the show who you wouldn’t expect to be guests. “I would like to put the President in a comedy bit,” said Kimmel. “We have to keep our wish list secret because if the people on the top of the list say no, we want the next person on the list to think they were the first person on the list.”
He quickly pointed out what he considered the turning point for his show.
“I think the Ben Affleck video was a big turning point,” said Kimmel. He was referring to a six-minute mock music video in February 2008 that suggested he was “getting busy” with Matt Damon’s buddy in retaliation for a video Kimmel’s then girlfriend, Sarah Silverman, made with Damon. It became a YouTube sensation. “When celebrities saw that and saw they would have an opportunity to be funny on the show and online after the show that made a big difference,” said Kimmel.
He has no illusions about winning in late-night any time soon.
“Honestly I think we will wind up being the No. 3 talk show,” said Kimmel. “These are shows that have been on a long time. You really can’t discount the legacy of ‘The Tonight Show’ and how ingrained it is in the habits of Americans… No. 3 is fine with me.”
NBC appears to be worried he is going to do much better than that.