LOS ANGELES—Jimmy Kimmel got off to a fine start in his new 11:35 p.m. time slot on Tuesday. But it still wasn’t good enough to take the top spot.
That went as usual to Jay Leno of NBC’s “Tonight Show,” a diminished but still potent figure in the late-night wars who drew 3.3 million total viewers compared with 3.1 million for the 11:35 premiere of ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
In the past, “Kimmel” had aired at 12:05 a.m., which put it at a competitive disadvantage with Leno and CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman.”
ABC is positioning Kimmel to ascend to the top of late-night TV in future years, and Tuesday night provided a good first step in that direction.
“Kimmel” beat Letterman, who delivered 2.9 million viewers for the night. And Leno has fallen a long way since a few seasons back, when he routinely drew more than 5 million viewers per night.
Exposed to the new time slot, when more viewers are watching TV, Kimmel easily improved on his average last season (1.9 million). And perhaps best of all for ABC, “Kimmel” was No. 1 among viewers ages 18 to 49 — those most sought by advertisers — in more than half the Top 25 TV markets, including New York and Chicago (but not Leno’s home turf of Los Angeles).
But ABC has a long way to go before it can start fitting Kimmel for the late-night crown. ABC’s entire late-night block — which includes the news program “Nightline,” now demoted to the spot after Kimmel — pretty much added up to the same overall number ABC saw with the shows’ order reversed.
So in net terms, the network did not see a gain.
Plus, the late-night TV race is crowded — and only getting more so.
And while Kimmel started off strong, that’s not unusual for heavily promoted premieres.
“Conan started off strong too,” said Brad Adgate, an analyst at Horizon Media, referring to Conan O’Brien’s brief tenure as “Tonight” host. “I think things will settle down and ‘JKL’ will probably be a strong third behind Leno and Letterman.”
At the very least, it will take a few more months before the smoke clears from this latest skirmish in the late-night wars.
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