Actor Ben Affleck appears on Jimmy Kimmel Live. (Randy Holmes/ABC )
Ten years after ABC began making trouble when it tried to pinch late-night stars from CBS and NBC to replace “Nightline,” the network will finally move homegrown talent Jimmy Kimmel into the time slot Tuesday.
When Kimmel takes his spot at 11:35 p.m., he’ll take on two towering figures — and the two men ABC tried to steal within the past decade: CBS’s David Letterman and NBC’s Jay Leno.
For ABC suits who’ve long thought they could make more money in the time period with competitive entertainment programming rather than with news, it’s the culmination of a dream of breaking into the late-night talk-show big league.
But that’s a blink of an eye compared with the 30-some years Kimmel has been working his way toward Tuesday.
“I know moving from midnight to 11:35 might not sound like a big deal — it’s only 25 minutes — but it’s probably the most important 25 minutes of my life, since the first 14 times I had sex,” Kimmel told his audience in August, on the day ABC announced “Jimmy Kimmel Live’s” promotion.
Jay and Dave, meanwhile, have reacted in a very big way to TV’s biggest move of the first quarter.
Leno’s starting his show one minute earlier — at 11:34 p.m. — during Kimmel’s first week in the earlier start time, in hopes of getting a jump on his new competition.
Letterman, on the other hand, paid a visit to Kimmel’s show in the days leading up to the promotion to wish him the best.
Kimmel’s move has been ABC-parent Disney’s best-choreographed debut since “The Lion King” opened at the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway in the late ’90s.
Leading up to the auspicious occasion, Kimmel has been thrust into the spotlight repeatedly for a solid year of star-making.
●In February, he kissed and made up with the longtime object of his ridicule, Oprah Winfrey, on his seventh annual “After the Academy Awards” special, scoring the second-largest crowd in the show’s history — more than 5 million viewers.
●In April, he hosted the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
●In July, his show received its very first Primetime Emmy Award nomination.
●In September, Kimmel hosted the Emmy Awards for the first time and got mostly rave reviews.
●In October, Kimmel — who’s been obsessed with Letterman since he was a youngster and says he only got into TV in hopes of becoming Dave’s friend — took his show to his home town of Brooklyn to kiss Letterman’s ring and wound up staring down Hurricane Sandy from the Brooklyn Academy of Music. For keeping the date, Letterman gave Kimmel his blessing: “I want to wish you the best of luck when you move the show. . . . I couldn’t be happier to have you in the running.”
●In December, Kimmel joined Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin and Ray Romano to pay homage to Letterman at the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony.
On Tuesday, “JKL” will have a shiny new set but will still be located at the El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard — its sidewalk chockablock with Frankensteins, Chewbaccas and other adults who have cast aside dignity — the perfect backdrop for Kimmel’s popular man-on-the-street video bits. A handful of new features have been added to the rotation in the weeks leading up to the show’s return from holiday break. Other than that, Kimmel says, they will be “pretty much doing the same show that we’ve been doing.”
He dismisses as “a little bit out of date” suggestions that ABC will want him to “broaden the show, or make it more wholesome, or something like that” once it starts airing earlier.
“Things have become so fragmented that you can continue doing the show that you’ve been doing and have . . . success at 11:35 — although I could be wrong,” he says.
Kimmel has worked hard to placate ABC in the years since the network plucked him from Comedy Central’s celebration of male loutishness, “The Man Show,” to headline a talk show in the hour after “Nightline.” “The Man Show” was billed as the “anti-Oprah” and featured the Juggy Dance Squad, Girls on Trampolines, midget gags and a liquored-up studio audience. In short, it appealed to young male viewers. Advertisers especially love young male viewers. Networks love advertisers.
And yet, almost immediately, ABC began to tinker.
When “Jimmy Kimmel Live” debuted Jan. 26, 2003, the rumpled, sallow-skinned couch potato eschewed opening monologues, refused to wear a suit or tie, and had been heard to say, “I would kill myself if I was forced to interview C-level celebrities and pretend to be interested in them.” Members of the studio audience were served alcohol, but ABC 86’d the booze after a woman in the audience vomited during the premiere.
In 2004, when a guest swore and the ABC Decency Police failed to catch it in time, the network insisted the show be taped early in the evening like other late-night broadcasts. The show’s name became ironic.